Jones Act Covers Crew Members Injured While Working on a Sailboat

Working as a captain or crew on a sailboat in the U.S. can be an extremely rewarding experience. Whether you are doing delivery runs, day sails, or longer-term charters, you are putting your life at risk on a daily basis. In all cases, you want to keep the pointy side up, the heavy side down; keep the water out of the boat and the people in the boat; and of course, you want to look good doing it. Within that simple mission though, a lot can go wrong.

Maritime law governs injuries obtained while working on a qualifying vessel. In the case of injuries resulting from your work on a commercial sailboat, the Jones Act is likely to apply. The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, holds owners and operators of commercial sailing vessels to a high duty of care to ensure that the vessel is seaworthy and the crew as safe as possible. If a crew member is injured due to a violation of any of these duties, that crew member may sue the owner, operator or employer for compensation for those injuries.

Who Does The Jones Act Cover?

The Act covers mariners who are assigned to a qualifying vessel or fleet and perform work in service of that vessel’s mission. As a captain, first or second mate, cook or steward, you would likely qualify for protection under the Act. For the vessel to qualify, it must carry passengers or cargo for a commercial purpose and be operating in navigable waters. For charter sailboats sailing from one harbor to another in U.S. waters, this would qualify.

Even if the Act does not apply to your specific situation, another maritime law may apply.

Commercial Sailboat Owner and Operator Duties

Maritime law sets down a number of requirements that owners and operators of commercial sailboats must meet. These include:

  • Maintaining a seaworthy vessel
  • Hiring and training competent crew
  • The operation of the vessel in accordance with the navigational rules of the road

Failure to uphold any of these duties can make an owner and/or operator liable for injuries to crew members.

Commercial Sailboat Accidents

Even though sailboats travel at a relatively slower pace than motorboats, accidents can still cause severe and fatal injuries. Failing to properly inspect and maintain a sailboat can cause:

  • Broken bones from winches that have not been serviced
  • Concussions from exploding blocks under load
  • Lacerations from broken wood, fiberglass or metal
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning from insufficiently vented engine compartments
  • Burns from exploding propane or fuel tanks

Even if a vessel is completely seaworthy, failing to operate the sailboat in a competent manner can cause severe injuries, including:

  • Traumatic brain injuries resulting from a swinging boom in an accidental jibe
  • Rope burns from improper line handling
  • Bruises and lacerations from failing to warn of big waves or an intent to tack
  • Broken bones from impact with another vessel, underwater hazard or other fixed object
  • Drowning from being thrown overboard or capsizing and failure to wear a PFD

Most sailboat accidents are caused by some form of human error, no matter how small. These errors include failing to:

  • Follow the rules of the road
  • Post a proper lookout
  • Avoid dangerous weather conditions
  • Hire and properly train crew
  • Warn passengers of dangerous conditions
  • Properly brief passengers and crew on emergency procedures

Injured Sailboat Crew Rights Under the Jones Act

As a qualified seaman, if you are injured in a sailboat accident, you have the right under the Act to:

  • Immediate and adequate medical care
  • Maintenance and cure benefits, without proving negligence
  • Sue your employer for negligence
  • A jury trial to determine your employer’s negligence

If you have been injured in a sailboat accident, it is important to seek immediate medical attention and report the accident as soon as possible. Determining liability in a sailboat accident can be complicated, so it is beneficial to talk to an attorney that specializes in maritime law.

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