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I've been told that you should never ask for a tow when you are stranded at sea. The reason given is that the person towing can claim a huge share of the stranded boat, potentially all of it if it's abandoned. Is this really codified somewhere? Should I avoid asking for a tow if I'm stranded because of this?

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I don't really think that towing a boat is really on-topic for The Great Outdoors. Especially if you're looking at the legal implications of asking for/accepting a tow. Beyond my opinion that the topic is not a good fit, this question is too vague. I suspect that the answer probably varies from country to country. And what do you mean by "claim a huge share"? That the person who did the towing can claim ownership of the boat that they towed? – Laura Jan 25 '12 at 0:04
This is not true any more. Once people claimed salvage rights if they towed a boat in international waters, but that has since changed. – xpda Jan 25 '12 at 0:06
@xpda Also, once you have a source for that, it makes more sense as an answer than a comment; you are answering the question. :) – Laura Jan 25 '12 at 0:09
I would consider this on-topic. its outdoors is it not? – mjrider Jan 25 '12 at 0:11
This is on-topic. It's potentially useful to canoers, kayakers, and sailors in international waters -- like the Strait of Juan de Fuca – mendota Jan 25 '12 at 0:48
up vote 19 down vote accepted

If you run out of fuel, have engine trouble, run aground soft, when there is no immediate danger to the marine environment, the boat, or the persons on board, then towing is just towing.

If a vessel is hard aground, stranded, on fire, or sinking, and is towed from the site, it may be considered a salvage operation. This once meant a reward of a portion of the vessel's cargo, but now it just means the rescuer is entitled to reasonable fees determined in a standard way (see the link below).

This is international maritime law, and applies to the open seas (outside the line of demarcation, in the U.S.).

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