Jones Act Law – Charter Boat Accidents

Chartering a boat can be a great way to see the world, with views that the land-based tourists never see. Common charter boat patrons include fishing aficionados, divers, sailors, and environmentalists. When you charter a boat, whether for work, a day trip or an extended vacation, you put your trust in the owner and the operator of the vessel and the vessel’s manufacturer to ensure that your adventure is as safe as can be expected. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, this trust is misplaced.

Too often, one or more of these individuals or companies fail to uphold their duties to the employees and passengers on those vessels, and people are seriously injured or killed. When these types of accidents happen, the determination of rights and responsibilities falls on the provisions of maritime laws. Which maritime laws apply will depend on the situation. For example, if you are an eligible maritime worker who is injured while in service of a charter vessel, you would have the right to sue your employer directly for your injuries, as granted by the Jones Act.

Responsibilities of Charter Boat Owners & Operators

Charter boat experiences come in two different forms: bareboat and full-service charters. Bareboat charters enable experienced boaters to rent a boat for a specific period of time. They are responsible for provisioning and operating the vessel. Full-service charters, on the other hand, include a captain and, if necessary, crew, as well as provisioning and operation of the vessel during the charter.

Maritime laws require charter vessel owners to provide mariners and passengers with reasonably safe conditions while onboard, and also to keep the vessels in seaworthy condition. Every owner must ensure that the vessel:

  • Is inspected for mechanical issues
  • Is inspected for leaks
  • Has equipment that is properly maintained, including winches, pulleys, engines and sails
  • Has adequate safety and flotation equipment for crew and passengers

These requirements are equally true for bareboat and full-service charters.

If the vessel is a full-service charter, the operator of the vessel has a duty to:

  • Operate the vessel in a competent manner
  • Obey maritime rules and regulations
  • Hire competent crew
  • Refrain from overloading the vessel with passengers or cargo

As an operator of a bareboat charter, you are still required to operate the boat in a competent manner and are charged with knowing and abiding by maritime rules and regulations. Failure to competently operate a bareboat vessel can open you up to liability if your negligent actions cause injury to your passengers or those of another vessel.

Charter Boat Accidents and Injuries

Accidents involving charter boats are common and varied. Injuries to passengers and crew frequently occur when these vessels:

  • Run aground
  • Capsize
  • Collide with other vessels or large sea animals
  • Strike fixed objects such as docks or underwater hazards
  • Encounter dangerous weather and sea conditions

Accidents involving charter vessels can cause a wide range of injuries, including:

  • Concussions from swinging booms, falling cargo, falling overboard, swinging doors or hatches, and out of control fishing gear
  • Amputations from improper line use, propeller injuries, and equipment failures
  • Broken bones caused by falls from upper decks or slipping on wet or oily surfaces
  • Bruises and lacerations caused by rough seas
  • Drowning, particularly in individuals not wearing personal floatation devices

While boating is an inherently dangerous activity, with proper care taken, your day at sea does not have to end in disaster. Most boating accidents are highly avoidable because they are usually caused by preventable things like:

  • Operator inattention
  • Failure to post adequate lookouts
  • Failure to follow navigation rules of the road
  • Boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Boating at speeds unsuitable for the conditions
  • Failure to ensure the crew is competent to handle all emergency situations
  • Failure to provide adequate safety briefings and safety equipment
  • Failure to inspect and maintain the vessel

Liability for charter boat accidents can fall on any number of individuals and will depend largely on the body of law that applies to each particular situation. An experienced maritime attorney will be best suited to assist you in determining who is at fault for any injuries you incur while on the water.

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