11/29/2012 03:48 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2013

Finding and Salvaging Your Property in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has turned the lives of many New Jersey residents upside down, and as a result we are seeing communities come together to help one another. People from all over the country are coming to help those on the East Coast affected by the storm, and strangers from all over the state are taking it upon themselves to donate food, clothing and time. Everyone has something to contribute, and I've learned over the past weeks that what we have to offer reaches far beyond donations and clean up.

After Sandy left her wake of destruction, I came outside to find that in my neighbor's yard, amongst your more typical hurricane debris, had landed a vending machine, an ice cream cooler (full of ice cream), hundreds of packs of cigarettes, cigars, sealed packages of beef jerky, and even packaged meats! It looked as though a small grocery store had literally exploded in her back yard. What was even more staggering were the four boats that were now docked around and on her house -- one of which was a 37-foot yacht. Feeling for her and wanting to help I offered my assistance. I grabbed a shovel and started removing debris. When I say I like to get down and dirty when working, assisting in debris removal is not what I typically have in mind, and it is fair to say that debris removal isn't exactly my forte.

After politely being asked to put the shovel down, I decided to use my skill set and help my neighbor by doing what I do best. I began to investigate the boats, looking for any clues that would help me to search for their owners so that they could be contacted. Access to proprietary databases allowed me to use the hull identification numbers to locate the registration details, which listed the names and addresses of the boat owners. Using other resources, I was able to obtain phone numbers and/or email addresses so that they could be contacted about their found property. Easy enough. Finding the owner of the yacht was a bit more difficult.

Now it was time to get down and dirty -- my way. Due to the positioning of the vessel and the debris surrounding it, it was impossible to discern the hull identification number. According to the labeling on the transom, the vessel's home port was at one time in California. It also had a registration decal on the mast indicating it was at one time registered in Alabama. With this conflicting information I could only think to use the Internet to positively identify the owner.

Using various search methods I was able to find the owner's username on a boating website but that was a dead end. More complex searches led me to a webpage that revealed an inactive advertisement for this specific vessel! The advertisement was from 2008. I contacted the broker who handled the sale of the boat. Though he was intrigued by the story and wanted to help, he was only able to identify the original owner and provided me with his contact information. I contacted the previous owner who was aware of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and also wanted to help. Within minutes I had the name of the current owner and was able to contact him. Needless to say, the owner was thrilled to be reunited with his boat, (but not so thrilled to have to hire a crane service to the tune of $11,000 to remove the boat from the property!)

People lost all types of property during the storm -- some people lost something as big as a boat, while others lost photographs and family treasures. It is our job to use the skills we have to help in any way we can and that doesn't necessarily have to be in a conventional way.

Here are some tips if you find something that may be of importance to someone else:

    1. Take a picture of it!
    2. Write out a full description of whatever it may be and post the photo along with a description on all social media sites.
    3. Send emails to all friends and family and ask them to pass along your message.

Finding something as small as a photograph or something as large as a boat can be that glimmer of hope that can really make a difference in the lives of the hurricane's victims. I urge you to use what you are best at to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy.