Towage and Salvage

The RYA share their advice should you ever find yourself in need of towage or salvage

Yacht towing a yacht and man on radio at chart table on yacht


If your boat is in real danger then a vessel or person coming to your aid to tow, pilot, navigate, advise or stand-by can be termed as a salvageable act. Often the RNLI come to your aid but because lifesaving is their main function, they make no claim for salvage.

The amount a salvor is paid is determined by the risk they take and what life or property they save. Proving that real danger existed is down to the salvor. Danger is often proved by the state of the salvaged boat and the lack of ability of the skipper and crew and the conditions and the circumstances of the event.


If a boat is in difficulties and requires assistance from another vessel, the skipper should initially try to arrange a towage contract with the person coming to help.

Towage officially defined as a contract for assisting the voyage of a vessel when nothing more is required than ‘accelerating her progress.’ There is very little chance of a tug claiming salvage if it is contracted to tow another unless the towing situation seriously deteriorates through conditions.

No Cure – No Pay

Try to agree a towage fee first, if not state, ‘No Cure No Pay’ because the overarching principle of salvage is that the property or part of it must be saved for a salvage fee or claim to be made.


A template Salvage Agreement is available from the RYA or from Lloyd’s (Lloyd’s Open or Standard Form) where the salvage fee can be fixed by negotiation or arbitration after the event. They are useful to have on-board.

If you are in a stressful situation where communication is difficult, ensure that any verbal agreement is witnessed by the crew and entered in the log.

If no agreement has been made, once ashore, again try to settle a fee for towage and get a receipt. 

Yacht towing a yacht and man on radio at chart table on yacht


Try to show that you still have some control of the situation by doing the following, if you can:

  • Use your own line
  • Help where you can in the operation
  • If being towed, establish communication with the tug en-route
  • Gather and record forecasts
  • Keep an accurate log

This information can be used in your defence if the case goes to court or arbitration and can influence the outcome and salvage fee payable.

The Fee

To decide how much a salvor is rewarded, a court will consider: 

  • Dangers exposed to the salvor and assisted vessel
  • Expertise displayed by the salvor
  • What was salvaged and its value
  • Damage caused by negligence of the salvors
  • The state of the assisted craft and its crew

More in-depth information on this subject is available for RYA members on the RYA website, search - Salvage and Towage.