Beachcomber or Log Salvor

Beachcomber or Log Salvor

Beachcomber or Log Salvor

It’s hard to imagine an occupation that better embodies the mythologies of western society more than the Log Salvage business. Many occupations available in today’s ever more organized economy pay lip service to enterprise, initiative and self reliance. The Log Salvor, to be successful, needs all those qualities as well as the physical courage and/or a touch of insanity.

To be successful, look to those who have made it in the business. Then you will know that at some point you will need to own a boat like theirs. So, buy yourself a boat that is the best you can afford. To start you will have to be prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time with your nose in the bilge and your boat in your backyard or someone’s shipyard for repairs. Do not expect the comfort of boat insurance as log salvage is perceived by the insurance industry as just too risky to insure.

Today, wooden boats are seldom ever used for log salvage. Instead Salvors are advocates of fiberglass, steel and aluminum. Whichever type you choose, your goal should be to spend more time working the boat than repairing it. If you anticipate joining in on a log spill, your boat is going to have to be properly built and maintained. It is not unusual for a boat engaged in the recovering of log bundles or loose logs in high seas to drop repeatedly from the top of a six to eight foot swell onto loose logs or bundles. Nor is it unusual to bump into the boomsticks along side the log tow you are trying to keep intact.

There are as many facets to Log Salvage as there are seascapes. Differing wind exposures, proximity to the markets, shoreline characteristics as well as the currents conditions all have a bearing on the choices Salvors make in their vessel, its power and the type of gear used. Boats with outboards pulling on the 3/8 inch doglines make all the economic sense in the world where you have sheltered waters in Howe Sound or the Fraser River. However, they will not meet the requirements of the Georgia Straits. As well a boat that can handle the Georgia Strait with assurance may be totally inadequate to deal with the massive tidal forces of the central coast or the Queen Charlottes.

While the majority of Salvors work solo, in some remote areas, teamwork is required. As well, they must pool their working capital , so they can accumulate enough logs to hire a barge to move their wood to market.

If you work in Howe Sound or in the Fraser River much of your work can be done before the rest of the world is awake.

Log spills often happen in the kind of weather that has people sitting in front of their television. You’re out there in the middle of the night, your boat heaving beneath you, peering for the sight of another log or log bundle and hoping you do not lose the ones you already have in tow. A Salvor’s work is done “out of sight and out of mind “. Very few people will give you the credit or even understand the circumstances and conditions you work in or the risks you take to get the job done. These are things only another Salvor would know and understand.

Some of the forest company people will … and willingly pay solid recovery costs without a quibble. The economics of this business are sometimes hard to take. The fact that Salvors are recovering logs for little more than they charged a decade ago, and despite the increases in the value of the wood and a decline in the number of log spills, Salvors still have to be equipped and prepared. They must be ready to go to work in a minutes notice. When you are called to go to a log spill, you know that you are needed. You leave parties or drop the work you were doing and sometimes you even have to crawl out of a nice warm bed, with but one question, “Where?”. After the work is done and all things calm down, you wait patiently to be compensated for the work you did, that Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving day. Yes, there are frustrations in this business, and they are mostly about the price of logs or some log salvage regulation.

As long as logs are shipped or handled on the water there will be a place for the Log Salvor. Acknowledged or not, Salvors have always played a major role environmentally and will continue to do so. The Forest Industry may take a good deal of credit for the work done by the salvor, but credit should be given where it is due.

Thank you to all those men and women in the Log Salvage industry who give their all for what they live to do. Yes, I said live to do, because this is not just a job but a way of life, from the veterans with two digit Log Salvage numbers, to the up-starts who’s numbers are in the thousands. Keep up the good work.


My thanks to John Marian of Sechelt for his input to this article.

Written by K.E. Harlow