All persons who regularly have business or activity over domestic or international water such as international cruise line passengers, passengers of private fishing charters, the owners of yachts or other boats, Navy seals, merchants, etc. must have at least a basic understanding of maritime law.

Maritime Law is the collection of laws, acts, regulations, and limitations under which vessels and persons on domestic and international waters are subject. All persons and activities on these waters need to follow the outlined laws or risk repercussions in state, federal, or international courts.

Having a basic understanding of the sections of maritime law is necessary for self-protection in a court of law. Below is a basic introduction to maritime law, its importance, what it covers, its jurisdiction, and important information for seamen, ship crew, and passengers to know, to help you get started.

What is Maritime Law?

Maritime Law, also known as Admiralty Law, is the collection of regulations, limitations, exemptions, etc. regarding the shipping, trade and commerce, towage, piracy, recreational boating, contracts, and navigation that take place in both international waters as well as domestic.

Whether the activity is on lakes, rivers, canals, or in the sea, maritime admiralty law applies concerning maritime liens, insurance, the marine academy, what to do in foreign harbors, private charters, and much more.

Why is Maritime Law Necessary?

Marine operations are intricate and complicated and there needs to be clear direction as to who is made responsible when accidents occur based on their circumstances, what is expected of the captain, crew, and passengers aboard, and what the regulations, limitations, exemptions, and consequences are regarding all the things we mentioned Admiralty Law covers in the previous section, and more.

Without this law, there is nothing holding captains, crew, or even the Navy accountable for neglect, and nothing to guide them on the maritime practices of other nations, when necessary.

Why You Should Know Some Maritime Law

Why does Maritime Law concern you? If you are a passenger to a cruise ship or private charter, a crew member on any ship, a Navy soldier, a captain, or a maritime lawyer, specific laws and acts will be of interest and importance to you. It’s also important for you to realize that maritime law is not consistent throughout the globe.

The laws, although similar to one another, will vary from country to country. It’s true that there is a collection of conventions that are internationally accepted and under the authority of the International Maritime Organization, and that much modern country-specific legislation supports the International laws to decrease confusion and promote continuity, but there are still wide disparities to be aware of.


It’s important, therefore, to be at least remotely familiar with the laws that apply to you to keep yourself safe in the law and to know what you are entitled to by those laws.

The Jurisdiction of Maritime Law

Regarding vessels, persons, activity, and crimes that take place on all navigable waters, admiralty law is supreme. It used to be that it only concerned American waters but has since expanded in jurisdiction over water activity.

While it may appear that admiralty law is supreme, the United States Congress does regulate it under the Commerce Clause. The Maritime Savings to Suitors Clause affects maritime law jurisdiction in that federal and state courts will have jurisdiction over existing maritime claims. The claim may also require filing actions with the federal court depending on what restitution is sought. This is usually the case when the case involves the ownership and arresting of a ship but can also concern damaged cargo and the collision between two vessels.

When this clause allows parties to bring their cases to state or even federal courts, the state courts still have to abide by maritime law, but the federal courts do not. In terms of jurisdiction, the federal courts are supreme in authority.

What Maritime Law Covers

There is a host of information maritime admiralty law clarifies and focuses on. It has to detail all manner of maritime operations, and as a result, a portion of the admiralty law includes, but is not limited to, such topics as the following.

  • Definitions and distinctions of important persons, vessels, and territories foreign and domestic.
  • Maritime Administration
  • Federal Maritime Commission
  • Exemptions
  • Vessel Documentation
  • Manning of Vessels
  • General Liability Provisions, Exoneration, and Limitations
  • Suits in Admiralty Against the US
  • Suits Involving Public Vessels
  • Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens
  • Regulation of Ocean Shipping
  • Shipping in Foreign Trade
  • Merchant Marine General
  • Merchant Marine Service Academy support and training
  • Crew reemployment rights and protection against discrimination
  • National Defense Tank Vessel Construction and Funding
  • Vessel Construction, Sale, and Chartering
  • War Risk Insurance
  • Coastwide Trade
  • Military Cargo Preference Statutes
  • Passenger and Cargo Preferences
  • Restrictions on Transfers
  • Emergency Acquisition of Vessels
  • Government-Owned Merchant Vessels
  • Vessel trade-ins and scrapping
  • Artificial Reefs
  • Military Programs
  • Commercial Shipyards
  • Veterans Benefits
  • Tax Provisions
  • Port Matters
  • Important Acts such as,
  • The Jones Act
  • The Hobbs Act
  • The Economy Act
  • American Fisheries Act
  • Federal Credit Reform Act
  • Merchant Ship Sales Act
  • National Emergencies Act
  • And many more


Most of you reading this don’t need to be aware of all of these laws, regulations, taxes, and acts, only some. Therefore the rest of this article will explain the topics that are brought up most often and are the most relevant to passengers and crew.

Laws and Acts Relevant to Passengers

If you are usually the passenger on a boat or cruise ship, there are several laws pertaining to your benefit should anything go wrong. Below are the rights you should be aware you have whenever you step aboard a water vessel.

There is significantly less protection for passengers detailed in maritime law than there is for seamen and crew and not all injuries are compensable under maritime law. It will help you to know what is and is not covered.

Passenger Personal Injury

This portion of maritime law, as the name suggests, is concerned with passengers who get injured on any vessel type while they are out at sea. If an accident should occur while due to the negligence of the ship’s owner or the crew employed by that owner. A claim can also be filed if an injury occurs on land from the vessel while on navigable waters.

For example, if you should slip on the deck because a crew member had mopped but did not put up a wet floor sign, you may be entitled to compensation. However, you would not be entitled to compensation if you slipped because it rained or the waves threw water on the deck.

If injuries occur, passengers may file a lawsuit within three years of the accident happening, according to the maritime statute of limitations. However, if you were injured as a cruise ship passenger, the limit may go down to one year. The time limit you have to file a claim for an injury will be in the fine print of your cruise ticket. It is best to get a maritime law attorney for maritime injury claims for you.

If an injury can’t be settled under maritime law with the help of your maritime injury lawyers, the same injury may be brought to a state court in the United States if it falls under the state’s personal injury law. No matter where you live, after an injury the initial steps to take are to seek medical attention followed by seeking out an experienced maritime injury attorney from your state or region.


The statute of maritime law that details the extent of liability for passengers, as detailed in the United States Department of Transportation Maritime Administration on page 68 is as follows:

46 U.S.C. 30102 (2007). Liability to passengers.

(a) Liability. The owner and master of a vessel, and the vessel, are liable for personal injury to a passenger or damage to a passenger’s baggage caused by– (1) a neglect or failure to comply with part B or F of subtitle II of this title; or (2) a known defect in the steaming apparatus or hull of the vessel.”

Ship Owner and Crew’s Duty of Care to Passengers

There are basic requirements a ship owner and their crew are expected to follow in being responsible for the care and protection of their passengers.

Firstly, they must provide their passengers reasonable security to protect them from physical harm, which includes reasonable protection from criminal activity, i.e. assault.

They must also make sure the ship, the ship’s equipment, and the crew that they hire are seaworthy. That is, the ship and equipment are to be in reasonable working condition and the crew sufficiently trained for the tasks on board.

Before signing on as a passenger with a cruise line or charter, read the terms and conditions on their website or your ticket. You can learn of any limitations to the duty of care agreed upon between you and the owners of the boat or ship you hire, as stipulated in the ticket or website that will protect the owner from being liable for certain accidents.

Incidents That Are Liable for Compensation

Because your rights as a cruise ship passenger can become limited, it’s important to know what you can receive compensation for, even from the cruise lines. The website of the cruiseline should come with a passenger’s bill of rights that resembles and includes at least the following:

  • A full refund will be given if a trip is canceled because of mechanical failure. A partial refund will be given if you are in the middle of a voyage and mechanical failure happens.
  • The right to have medical attention available on ships that operate beyond rivers or coastal waters.
  • The right to have a backup generator onboard
  • The right to lodging if the ship must dock in an unscheduled port overnight due to mechanical failure.

Serious incidents that are liable for compensation to you or to family include,

  • Drowning and near drowning during the cruise in the on-board swimming pool(s) or by falling overboard.
  • Disappearances during the cruise
  • Dangerous conditions that harm yourself or family during the cruise.
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Rape and sexual assaults during the cruise.

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

Signed into law in 2010, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act expounds on the rights of passenger safety and requires cruise ships to,

  • Have guard rails that are at least 54 inches high
  • Have peep holes, latch locks, and time-sensitive keycard locks in all passenger and crew cabin doors
  • Implementation of fire safety codes
  • Installment of technology that alerts when a passenger falls overboard
  • Installment of a sound warning system
  • Have at least one crew member trained in crime scene preservation
  • Have a log book to record all alleged crimes, missing persons, deaths, and passenger complaints of crimes.
  • Have statistical information posted on a public website that is maintained by the Coast Guard.
  • Report all crimes and disappearances to the Coast Guard or other nearby authority.


If you are injured due to a cruise line’s negligence in fulfilling these requirements, you can easily win your case for compensation with a maritime lawyer.

Laws and Acts Relevant to Crew and Seamen

Crew members and seamen have significantly more laws and acts that are relevant to them than passengers, which is natural because, unlike passengers, you as a shipmate are placed in far more occasions for injury or even death.

Maritime Law – Maintenance and Cure

Maintenance and cure may be the most commonly used statute for maritime injury claim settlement in maritime law, and this may be because all that is required to win this settlement is for the worker to have been injured while they were working. It isn’t necessary to elaborate how or when the accident happened. It’s also common simply because of the risky circumstances ship crew are exposed in an unstable environment.

The “maintenance” half of the statute requires the employer to cover the costs of the worker’s living expenses while they are recovering. While maintenance covers obligatory expenses, such as rent and taxes, it does not cover optional ones such as TV streaming subscriptions.

The “cure” half of the statute refers to the medical costs needed to allow the victim to fully recover which, in addition to covering the costs of the practitioner appointments themselves, also covers the cost to get to those appointments.

Maritime Law – The Jones’ Act

This act is another means of protecting the rights of injured seamen, but an important aspect of this act is that the responsibility of proving an accident was caused by the negligence of the owner of the ship or boat lies on you, the victim.

However, the amount of proof required is much lower than in normal personal injury cases because of that fact. So long as you can prove your employer had some part to play in the accident, regardless of how remote the part, you can win the case. Accepted proofs include,

  • Failure to ensure seaworthiness of the ship and equipment
  • Failure to provide sufficient training, tools, and/or safety gear
  • Willfully leaving spills on the ship’s deck
  • Neglecting placement of appropriate signs such as warning and hazard signs.
  • Allowing co-work assault
  • Making you work too many hours or do work beyond the capabilities of a single person that causes fatigue and injuries from repetitive actions.

Your compensation will be calculated based on the damages inflicted on you which will affect the compensation by how severe they are and circumstances surrounding the injury. You have up to three years to file your claim under the Jones’ Act.

Maritime Law – The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)

This is the act to be aware of if you, as an employee, are injured while over navigable waters or when injured on or around adjoining areas of said waters. Common instances of accidents that fall under this act are injuries that are obtained while loading or unloading cargo, repairing the ship/boat, etc.

Under this act, employers are required to pay 66% or ⅔ of your usual weekly wage during your recovery. If you are permanently disabled, such as by the loss of a limb, the employer must compensate you for your compromised earning capacity. Lastly, if you are the spouse of a deceased worker who died in a way that is covered under this act, you are entitled to 50% pay established by the Secretary of State’s national average.

After your injury, you only have one year to file your claim that either starts the day of the injury, or the day your employer stops paying your compensation. Even if your employer starts paying you compensation after the accident, it’s advised that you still file a formal claim before the first anniversary of your accident. This is to make sure there is no confusion you are filing in order to receive your entitled benefits.

Maritime Law – Death on High Seas Act

Enacted in 1920, this act can’t benefit the deceased, but the family of the deceased can still receive compensation for losing their loved one, and at the time the act was written into law, the primary income maker of the household. This act is enforced when the accident occurs more than three miles away from U.S. and U.S. territory shores.

Compensation is given if the death of the worker was caused by a “wrongful act,” i.e. a crime, through neglect of the shipowner or other crew in maintaining the integrity of the ship and its equipment, or by a “default,” that occurred on the high seas.

As the surviving family or representatives of the deceased, the amount of compensation you can receive is calculated based on what the deceased worker would have made on the voyage and based on the care any children of the deceased worker have now lost. In other words, your compensation is the income the deceased would have brought minus the amount they would have used on themselves.

The deceased’s spouse can even receive compensation for domestic household services they would have provided and pecuniary compensation. Representatives of the deceased worker have three years after the death to claim compensation.

Maritime Law – Conflicts in Contracts, Liens, and Mortgages

When disputes occur regarding maritime contracts, liens, and/or mortgages of vessels arise, the disputes are settled in a federal court instead of a civil court like land-based disputes of this sort are settled. Under admiral law, the federal courts also serve as a forum for employees who need to plead their cases of being unpaid or underpaid.

If you intend to record a lien for a documented vessel, 46 U.S.C. 31343 (2007) states that you must state the nature of the lien, the date your lien was established between you and the owner of the vessel or you and the trusted manager of the vessel, the amount of the lien, the name and address of the one you made your agreement with, and you need to sign and acknowledge the record.

If you are confused about who has a lien on a documented vessel, 46 U.S.C. 31342 (2007) clarifies that anyone providing “necessaries,” to a vessel because they were contracted to do so by the owner of the vessel, unless it’s a public vessel. If it’s not a public vessel, the one providing the necessaries can obtain civil action to enforce the lien. An important note is that they do not have to prove in the civil action that credit was given to the vessel.

Salvage and Treasures

The purpose of this law is to protect the interests of property owners and salvors, those who salvage said property.

When a professional salvor is hired by the property owner to reclaim valuable property in the sea or other body of water, the salvage and treasures laws protect the salvor’s right to the amount of money the salvor and property owner agreed upon before the salvor goes into the water.

When someone recovers valuable property outside of a contract, they are called “merit salvors,” and are also protected under the salvage and treasures law. If a merit salvor and property owner can’t agree on how much money the salvor should receive as an award, the maritime courts will determine a proper amount based on the value of the object(s) recovered, the risks the salvor faced, and the efforts the salvor put in to get the salvage.

When Do You Need  Maritime Lawyers?

As you have read, the language of the admiral law can be subjective and is open to interpretation. It can vary from court to court what is considered “reasonable,” or what is considered “seaworthy.” Maritime admiral law is complex and expansive. For the average crewmember or passenger, it’s necessary to hire the services of an experienced maritime injury  lawyer in order to receive due compensation for the appropriate maritime injury claim.

If you are a crew member who has been injured, you know that you deserve compensation if your employer makes you work too many hours which causes fatigue and greatly increases the likelihood of accidents, if you were not given adequate training, or you were not given the tools necessary for your work, to name a few examples.

Compensation becomes the most necessary when the cruise line refuses to re-hire you because of your injury, making it more difficult to supply for yourself and your family. Delays in filing a claim are never worth the idea that the cruise line might re-hire you so long as you don’t sue because to re-hire you would be seen as a further risk in liability.

A major benefit to hiring a maritime injury lawyer is that the cruise line or owner of the ship you were working on can never avoid giving you your entitled maintenance money and medical treatments, especially out of spite. One of the major concerns that prevent many injured maritime workers from filing a claim.

As an injured passenger, and depending on who you hire, a maritime lawyer can help you to maximize and collect your health insurance or else find doctors who will treat you before the end of your case is heard and hire their own doctors to give a proper diagnosis of your condition.

They can also help you to collect wage and salary losses caused by your injury or sickness that happened while on the cruise, and, if you are from another country, they can help you with your B1-B2 visas.


Maritime and Admiralty law is very difficult to grasp, which is why there are those who have made it their job to study it and interpret it for you. Nevertheless, educating yourself on your rights as a crew member and/or passenger is the first step to recognizing when you should look for legal assistance.

One last thing to know is to never sign paperwork that is given to you other than the initial accident report before your maritime lawyer combs through it. This includes paperwork given to you by your employer’s insurance company as you may accidentally sign away your rights to compensation.