Introduction: The success of salvage techniques for free tissue transfer is well documented. The aim of this study was to identify factors that influenced the results of salvage operations in a group of patients who required early exploration. Methods: From a database survey of 408 patients who had a total of 427 free issue transfer reconstructions, 65 (16%) returned to the operating theatre within 7 days. A retrospective analysis of their progress was made from the case records. Results: The flap chart was found to be highly accurate for the 65 patients who had returned to the operating theatre, reporting two false positives and one false negative. Forty patients had compromised flaps and 25 had haematomas that required evacuation. The commonest problem with flaps was venous congestion (33/40, 83%), and 29 flaps were successfully salvaged (73%). Most successful salvage attempts were made within 24 hours of the end of the initial operation. The salvage rate was higher for the radial fasciocutaneous flaps (25/30, 83%), than for composite flaps (2/7, 29%). A total of 24/427 flaps failed (6%). Conclusions: We now recommend hourly observations of the flap for 24 hours followed by 4-hourly monitoring for 48 hours. Improved monitoring techniques for composite grafts may result in more being salvaged and a better overall survival.