BoatingService Repair

To Salvage or Not to Salvage Your Boat After a Hurricane

AFTER A HURRICANE OR TROPICAL STORM, images like this one make us gasp and hope that all the humans are safe. Our next thought, especially if our own boat is in the pile, is usually something along the lines of “what the %@&! do we do now?”

Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, and the severe winds, waves and tidal surges they bring with them can damage or even destroy a boat. This can be very upsetting and expensive for boat owners. Depending on the extent of the damage to your boat, it may be possible to repair and refurbish it to its former beauty … or not. What are the considerations when determining whether a vessel can — or should — be saved?

If your boat has drifted from its mooring or slip yet remains afloat, damage is likely to be minimal and successful retrieval fairly straightforward. You’ll want to get it back to a safe berth either under its own power or with a tow so that it can be inspected by your insurance company or a licensed surveyor. They will be looking for any structural damage that may not be visible to the untrained eye, which may render the vessel unsafe or unusable. If the structural integrity of the vessel has been compromised, it will be deemed a total loss — typically when the cost of repairs would exceed 75% of its cash value. The decision whether to repair or total a boat is determined by your insurance company, based on the type and extent of damage, age of the boat, state law and other factors

If your boat isn’t insured, you’ll want to carefully inspect it yourself, looking for damage that would make it unsafe. Your safety and the safety of your passengers is the primary concern, so professional inspection is always recommended. A marine repair shop will inspect the hull for damage and verify if any water made its way in between the layers, which will cause problems later. They will inspect the engine and wiring as well as electronics, pumps and lights, to determine if they are repairable or must be replaced. Experienced boat owners may feel confident doing this inspection themselves.

If you go looking for your boat after a storm and it’s under 10 other boats, or if it has sunk either partially or to the bottom, there’s likely no saving it. There are the rare instances where a boat on top of a pile is still serviceable, but you’ll absolutely want to contact your insurance company for assistance. While you have the right to salvage your boat, unsuspecting owners can fall prey to inexperienced, poorly equipped or overpriced salvors who often cause additional damage and problems. If your marina wants to act as a contractor, it should have your permission and the agreement of your insurance company before moving or salvaging your boat.

If the boat is retrieved quickly enough, undamaged components can often be reused or sold. Engines can even be saved by a process called pickling, which must be done promptly and properly to be effective. It is possible to do this work yourself on outboard motors. There are videos online from reputable marine mechanics to show you how. It’s important to note that if your motor is still submerged, it’s best to leave it underwater, if possible, until you’re prepared to do the work because corrosion begins as soon as it’s exposed to air.

Hurricane damaged boat

There are definitely a few things to consider when deciding whether to salvage a boat that has been damaged in a hurricane or storm.


  • Cost savings: Repairing a damaged boat can often be less expensive than purchasing a new one.
  • Sentimental value: For some people, their boat holds sentimental value and they may be unwilling to part with it.
  • Repairing the boat can be a challenging and rewarding project.


  • The cost of repairing the boat may be more than the value of the boat itself. In this case, it may not be cost-effective to salvage the boat.
  • The damage to the boat may be too extensive to repair. In this case, it may not be possible to salvage the boat.
  • Salvaging the boat may take a significant amount of time and effort.
  • The boat may not be safe to use after it has been damaged in a hurricane

Overall, the decision to salvage a boat after a hurricane should be based on a careful assessment of the cost and feasibility of repair, as well as the sentimental value of the boat.

So, what if you find a boat after a storm and no one seems to want it? In Florida, if you find a boat that appears to be abandoned, you may be able to claim ownership of the boat under the state’s abandoned property laws. However, claiming ownership of an abandoned boat can be a complex process and you may need to follow certain procedures to do so.

In general, the process for claiming ownership of an abandoned boat in Florida involves the following steps:

Report the abandoned boat to the local authorities. The police or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) should be notified if you come across an abandoned boat.

Repairing Hurricane Damaged Boats

Try to locate the owner of the boat. You may be able to find the owner of the boat by checking the boat’s registration or by contacting the manufacturer of the boat.

If you are unable to locate the owner of the boat, you may be able to claim ownership of the boat through the process of adverse possession. Under Florida law, adverse possession occurs when someone takes possession of property and holds it openly and continuously for a certain period of time (typically seven years). If you are able to claim ownership of the boat through adverse possession, you may need to file a lawsuit to have your ownership recognized by the court.

It is important to note that the process for claiming ownership of an abandoned boat in Florida can be complex and you may want to seek the advice of an attorney before proceeding.


Ultimately, we all hope our boats will never be damaged or sink. But hope is not a strategy. Whenever possible, insuring your vessel is always the way to go. Prevention is also key. Learning how to properly secure a boat to its dock or mooring before a storm approaches is a boat owner’s responsibility. This can help prevent your boat from breaking free in extreme weather and damaging other vessels and the environment. Even with the best preparation, accidents happen. Have a plan and educate yourself before disaster strikes.

Aidan Olf is a Certified Marine Mechanic, U.S. Army Wounded Veteran, and avid freshwater and saltwater sport fisherman. He grew up fishing the bays and ponds of Rhode Island. He lives with his wife, son and stepson in Palm Bay, Florida.