Jones Act Info Center – What Makes a Vessel Unseaworthy?

 As a professional mariner, you expect certain things from your employer. You expect that they will choose an equally competent crew to work with you. You expect them to keep you reasonably safe. You expect them to pay you well for your work. And of course, you expect them to provide you with a seaworthy vessel on which to work. As we all know, this doesn’t always happen.

Vessel Seaworthiness Requirements

Maritime laws, including the Jones Act, actually require vessels to be seaworthy and provide protections to seamen who are injured or killed due to a vessel being unseaworthy.  Every vessel owner has a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.  A seaworthy vessel has:

  • parts and equipment that are reasonably fit for their intended purpose
  • competent crew adequately trained to do the work assigned
  • adequate safety equipment

A vessel does not necessarily have to be inoperable to be considered unseaworthy. If some of its parts or equipment aren’t fit for the purpose, it is unseaworthy. For example, a fishing boat with winches that have not been maintained in the recent past, hatches and drawers that will not remain closed, and lack a fall protection can be considered unseaworthy. In addition, a vessel with slippery surfaces, trip hazards, poorly designed equipment, and insufficient warnings for hazards will render a vessel unseaworthy.

In addition to improper and faulty equipment, a vessel can also be unseaworthy if the crew is incompetent and cannot operate it. The safe operation of a vessel requires a highly competent and expertly trained crew. If the owner negligently hired crewmembers that are not competent enough to operate the vessel or fail to train them, that can also render the vessel unseaworthy. If the boat is understaffed, it may also be considered unseaworthy.

Injuries From Unseaworthy Vessels

If you are a qualified seaman that is injured in the course of your work because of unseaworthiness, you may bring an action against your ships owner for negligence and recover damages for things like lost wages, disability, pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of consortium and other damages. If the vessel’s unseaworthiness causes the death of a maritime worker, family of the deceased can bring an unseaworthiness claims against your employer as well.

Bringing An Unseaworthiness Claim Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act protects a very specific subset of maritime workers, namely, seamen. To be considered qualified as a seaman you must spend at least 30% of your time working on a commercial vessel capable of operating in navigable waters.  Your work must further the mission of the vessel you are working on. To bring a claim of unseaworthiness, you must be a qualified seaman, the vessel must be unseaworthy, and the unseaworthy condition must have caused your injury.

If you are injured while working on an unseaworthy vessel, you have the right to receive compensation for your injuries. Most maritime attorneys handle unseaworthiness claims and can ensure you get the care and compensation that you deserve.

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