I am looking specifically in the context of used, discarded or lost material (perhaps ships, trucks, weaponry and the like).

I have considered forager, scavenger and pirate; however the first seems to me to attach more of a connotation of food, the second adds the sense of animals to food, and the last intimates more of theft and violence.

Perhaps this sentence may give some insight.

The salvage ship plied its trade through uncharted backwaters, searching for the abandoned detritus of yesterday's business.

How would you call who worked on that ship?

  • 4
    Scavenger is appropriate here. It can also mean 'someone who collects discarded items'.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Apr 18 '11 at 21:02

A traditional word for those who salvage on the sea is "wrecker". It's evocative of a time when salvaging wasn't considered a very nice thing to do. Example PDF.

On land:

The used equipment business I've been involved in requires that we go to auctions and buy equipment at the cheapest possible prices. One of the groups of people you meet at these auctions are called "scrappers". They purchase metal items (and plastic and perhaps others) at auctions for their scrap value. Some of them own their own scrap yards but we might buy something that we know we can scrap.

Anyway, scrappers sometimes are on the wrong side of the law in that if you leave a thing around long enough, which has enough scrap value, and the thing is in a region which is sufficiently unobserved, then eventually a scrapper will come along, take it up, and sell it to a scrap yard. I've spent time at night watching for these folks and have surprised them a few times. In this sense, "scrapper" means "scrap metal thieves".

A typical object for scrappers is manhole covers. "A scrapper might get about $20 covers and grates, but it can cost the city more than $200 to replace a single manhole cover. A few years ago, scrappers got only $35 a ton compared to the current $425 price for a ton." –mjperry.blogspot.com

  • Thank you! This is the answer that most evokes the mercenary but informal feel that I was looking for!
    – rand0m1
    Apr 19 '11 at 18:07
  • @rand0m1; Thanks, I learned the term from the book by that name, The Wreckers: A Story of Killing Seas, False Lights, and Plundered Shipwrecks", which I highly recommend and is new at Amazon for $1.62: amazon.com/Wreckers-Killing-Lights-Plundered-Shipwrecks/dp/… Apr 19 '11 at 23:08
  • 2
    Not happy about this one. Wrecking is a well-known trade carried on by shoredwellers, causing wrecks by such things as building bonfires as fake lighthouses, in order to share what comes ashore. Not the same as salvage on the sea. May 21 '11 at 22:01
  • I suppose it's possible for a "shoredweller" to pick up stuff that arrives on the beach, but that's not how it's generally done. Read the above book to see many examples why. Or simply click over to the amazon page, click on the "look inside!" link and ask yourself how the hell a "shoredweller" is going to salvage a vessel that isn't on the shore. May 25 '11 at 23:24
  • "Art" is anything that someone will pay more than its scrap value for.
    – Mazura
    Jun 8 '16 at 8:23

Salvager is a perfectly cromulent word, according to none other than the Gray Lady herself.

Off topic, but that sentence is fully Bulwer-Lytton compliant. Two clichés, a pleonasm, and whatever "yesterday's business" is -- in fewer than 20 words.

  • 1
    Well - finally - recognition! All my other BLFC submissions have garnered less (no) interest. I'm pretty sure it's the brevity that hurts their chances...
    – rand0m1
    Apr 18 '11 at 21:45

The word in maritime law is salvor

  • 2
    +1 and, much to my surprise at hearing Churchill use this regarding a wrecked de Havilland Comet, the verb is to salve (rather than to salvage).
    – msanford
    Apr 19 '11 at 4:10

I'd think the specific word meaning this would be salvor, although it isn't so common as to be approved by the spell-checker as I type this. See here. It also appears to mean one who applies ointment.


Here's some possibilites to chew on:


  • 1
    recycler might fit in certain circumstances.
    – DCookie
    Apr 18 '11 at 23:16

A salvor.

According to Wordreference:

Salvor (noun): a person who salvages or helps to salvage a ship, cargo, etc.


You could call that person a salvager or a salvage operator.


scrounger and vulture are possibilities. The latter would have negative and poetic connotations.


One who salvages is a salvager.

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