How to Raise & Salvage a Sunken Boat

by Kyle McBride

Raising and salvaging a sunken boat is an involved and moderately dangerous process. Weather conditions, sea state, water and air temperatures and predatory or dangerous animals can make the procedure even more difficult. The cause of the flooding must be temporarily repaired to allow the boat to be raised and pumped out, meaning someone has to do repairs with the boat still flooded and possibly still resting on the bottom. Having a certified scuba diver with diving gear that is in good working order is an absolute must-have to keep the project as safe as possible. This project will need a team of people to safely and effectively raise the boat.

Step 1

Position the standby vessel close to and downwind of the wreck. Pass a length of rope from the standby vessel to the wreck and fasten both ends to tether the standby vessel.

Step 2

Dive down to the wreck and fasten lift bags or inner tubes to the rigging, cleats and any other strong points that are available. Fill the lift bags or tubes with compressed air from the compressor to begin raising the wreck from the bottom.

Step 3

Make temporary repairs to the source of flooding. Usually a sunken boat will be holed somewhere in its hull. Stretch the tarp across the hole and fasten each corner securely. The tarp--now called a fother--works to seal the hull and prevent new water from entering. The boat should be floating just below the surface at this point.

Step 4

Insert the dewatering pumps' pickup hoses into the wreck. Ensure that the discharge hoses are led in a safe direction and start the pumps. The pumps should overcome any water coming into the wreck over the gunwales or around the fother and pump the boat free of water. The wreck should now be floating.

Take the wreck under tow with the standby vessel. Tow slowly and carefully to avoid ripping the fother off and resinking the wreck. Tow the wreck to a boat hoist, ramp or dry dock and secure the wreck on land before attempting to repair the hull.


  • Diesel engines can survive immersion in water for quite some time. Gasoline engines cannot. If the motor is a diesel and was in decent condition when it sank, then it likely can be salvaged. Drain the water from the motor and perform an oil change as soon as practicable after the wreck is floated to prevent rapid rusting of the engine. Most diesels can be started right up with a fresh battery and fresh fuel after the oil change. Gasoline motors likely will be junk and should be removed and sold for scrap.
  • The number of dewatering pumps you will need depends on the size of the wreck and the volume of water coming in it. Generally at least two pumps should be used for a boat about 20 feet long and with a minimal amount of water coming in. Larger boats or boats that are taking on more water will need more pumps to overcome the flooding.

Items you will need

  • Rope
  • Certified scuba diver with gear
  • Lift bags or inner tubes
  • Air compressor and hose
  • Tarp
  • Gasoline-powered dewatering pumps (2- or 3-inch)
  • Standby vessel

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