Role of the receiver of wreck

The receiver of wreck is usually a government official whose role is to conduct investigations on boat wrecks for the purpose of finding the legal owner of the vessel and its property. Through conducting thorough investigations, the receiver of wreck will not only ascertain the rightful owner of the property, but can also ensure the salvors of the wreckage receive an appropriate award. To understand the rights and obligations of the receiver of wreck it is advised that you enlist the professional guidance of a consultancy firm or maritime lawyer.

Receiver of wreck explained

The receiver of wreck effectively ‘administers law’ with respect to wreck and salvage in jurisdictions that have British administrative heritage, such as the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Ireland and Canada.


The main definition and responsibilities of the receiver of wreck can be found in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, a boat wreck is categorized into 4 different areas, namely;

  • Lagan: goods cast overboard from a ship which are perished beyond salvage
  • Derelict: goods which have been abandoned  at sea
  • Jetsam: goods cast overboard in a bid to save the vessel by lightening it
  • Flotsam: goods that are lost from a sunken vessel, these goods will typically be recoverable as they have floated

Responsibilities of the Receiver of Wreck

The receiver of wreck is tasked with the responsibility of processing incoming reports of boat wrecks with a view to giving the owner of the wreckage the opportunity to recover their possessions. The receiver of wreck also ensures the salvors of the wreckage are awarded appropriately with a ‘salvage award’. This award will vary depending on the wreckage, the risk of salvaging the boat and the value of its contents, but essentially the award is usually in line with the value of the salvage.

The receiver of wreck must also prepare an annual report which details all the finds and statistics for that year.

Once a boat wreck has been reported, the receiver of wreck must:

  • Research the ownership of a boat wreck
  • Consult with the salvor of the wreck and the official owner
  • Work in conjunction with local HM coastguards and maritime agencies
  • Investigate any report of offences regarding treatment of the wreck

With regards to unclaimed boat wrecks, the receiver of wreck must be satisfied that any claims made to the wreck are legitimate and the person making the claim can prove they are entitled to the property.