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How to Salvage Abandoned Boats

Updated February 21, 2017

Boats, a symbol of luxury, are within reach of the average pocketbook. When economic times falter, however, the boat is often the first expense eliminated. Unfortunately, owners sometimes abandon their boats, leaving state governments to deal with them. State laws vary on when and how agencies can officially declare boats abandoned, but there are ways for those interested in boat salvage to obtain these boats legally at a good price through unclaimed property auctions. Even if you do not wish to acquire the boat, government agencies will reimburse you for the salvage costs.

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  1. Consult with a maritime law attorney to learn salvage laws in the state in which you wish to operate

  2. Acquire a suitable boat for boat salvage operations. This boat must be of sufficient size and with sufficient power to haul the type of boats you wish to salvage

  3. Get training for your captain's license and additional training in handling salvage operations.

  4. Get licensed as a marine salvage contractor. Go to your state's business licensing department to apply for a business license and particular permits that cover boat salvage operations. This may also require insurance coverage for both your boat and the abandoned boats you salvage.

  5. Contact your local fish and wildlife commission or motor vehicle department. Either of these agencies may be in charge of contracting for the removal of abandoned boats in your area. Make sure they know you are ready to help with boat salvage to remove abandoned boats from local waterways.

  6. Learn environmental protection requirements for your locality. Abandoned boats may have oil or gas leaks or other problems that create environmental hazards. Know the agencies that will handle the cleanup for these problems so you can call on them when these problems arise.

  7. File court papers to receive reimbursement to recover additional costs you incur while salvaging the abandon boats. This is generally handled through the county clerk of the courts.

  8. File a claim for abandoned property or attend state and local unclaimed property auctions to purchase boats.

  9. Tip

    It is not always easy to find the registered owner of an abandoned boat. Boats built before 1970 did not require license numbers, according to Tampa Bay. Numbers also may have been scratched off. Not having this number may delay the time the abandoned boat goes up for auction. According to ClarisLaw, Florida maritime attorney, to keep a found boat in the state of Florida,you must file a claim with the local sheriff's office. If after 90 days, the owner does not claim the vessel, the title can be transferred to you. Other states may have different laws regarding claiming abandoned boats.


    Salvaging a boat does not automatically mean you can claim ownership of the boat. Unclaimed boats generally belong to the state, which will determine who the owner is and whether the owner truly abandoned the craft.

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Things You'll Need

  • Boat for towing
  • Business license

About the Author

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