SafeSea Logo
Join RenewContact

IV. Towage Versus Salvage

The argument that services rendered by a salvor which brings in a disabled vessel at the end of a hawser were "simple towage" is one frequently heard. Often, insurance companies make such arguments because while they are liable to pay a claim for salvage, in many cases, the insurance companies are not liable for claims for towage and payment of such claims is the owner's responsibility. However, the admiralty courts of the United States have addressed the difference between "simple towage" and salvage services on numerous occasions and have made it abundantly clear that, in most such situations, the services rendered are salvage. Indeed, one leading admiralty treatise has described the act of rescuing a ship at sea by towing her to a place of safety as the "prototypical" act of salvage. This does not necessarily mean, however, as will be discussed infra, that the salvor will be entitled to a huge reward for such services.

As previously discussed, a salvage service implies that there was some degree of danger or some need of extraordinary assistance to the vessel which characterizes a salvage service. Although a marine peril to the salved property is a necessary ingredient of a valid salvage claim, the peril required in a salvage service does not need to be one that is necessarily imminent or an absolute danger. It is sufficient if the property is in danger, either presently or reasonably to be apprehended.

Simple towage, on the other hand, is a service that is based on the employment of one vessel to expedite the voyage of another when nothing more is required than the acceleration of her progress. Simple towage is regarded as having taken place when a tow is called for or taken by a sound vessel as a mere means of saving time, or for considerations of convenience.

The hallmark of "towage" is the absence of peril. The motivation for the towing service is convenience not safety. An example would be where a sailboat, proceeding under sail in light airs without difficulty, requests towing assistance from a power vessel to expedite the vessel's return to her mooring in order to allow the passengers to meet an appointment.

In many cases of salvage, there is no generic difference between the physical acts of towage and salvage, where towage may be a salvage service when it is rendered to property actually in danger or where danger is reasonably to be apprehended. Some courts have designated the term as either "salvage towage" or as "extraordinary towage" where salvage service has been recognized. A typical case would arise when a power vessel has run out of fuel or is disabled and adrift at sea but the only assistance required is a tow to a safe mooring. In such cases, the level of salvage services would be extremely low when the service is rendered in harbor or close to shore, in calm weather and when numerous other vessels or towboats were available to render the same service.

Indeed, because of the relatively low order of salvage in such cases, coupled with the ready availability of numerous other companies to render such services on fixed price hourly rates, it is the almost universal practice of salvors to provide such services on a fixed price basis or hourly rate. However, the services remain salvage services albeit rendered on a fixed price basis. The distinction is important because if the good weather and calm seas are replaced with high seas and an approaching hurricane, if the locale is moved many miles offshore where no other assistance is available, the entire context of the services, and their value, changes radically.

Context is very important in determining both the nature of services and the amount of compensation. Another issue of "context" which often leads to confusion with regard to the nature of the services involved is that of the recreational vessel which is aground.

Previous Section

Next Section

Top of Page


60 Reynolds Street
Wickford, RI 02852
24 Hour Dispatch: 401-295-8711