Maritime Law Glossary
Helpful Definitions of Common Maritime Terms
To help you get the most out of the information on our website, we have prepared this list of maritime law terms and explained them in plain English for non-lawyers. In addition to reviewing the information we have included below, we always welcome you to call (888) 346-5024 for a free consultation with an offshore injury lawyer who can answer any questions you may have and address your concerns about your case.
- Administrative Claim
An administrative claim is pursued through administrative processes rather than the court system and is overseen by a governmental agency or board. A claim for workers’ compensation governed by state law is an administrative claim overseen by the individual state agency responsible for these claims. Injury and illness claims filed under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act are administrative claims filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Government agencies employ the use of hearing officers or Administrative Law Judges to preside over their proceedings. There is no administrative process for pursuing a claim for damages under the Jones Act.
Admiralty refers to a specific area of law and jurisdiction that deals with legal matters related to maritime activities and navigation on the high seas or other navigable waters. Admiralty law, also known as maritime law, encompasses a wide range of legal issues and regulations governing matters such as shipping, navigation, cargo transportation, salvage, maritime contracts, injuries or accidents at sea, and various other maritime-related disputes.
- Admiralty Extension Act
The Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act is a United States federal law that extends the jurisdiction of federal admiralty courts beyond traditional maritime boundaries. It was enacted to allow federal courts to hear cases that involve admiralty or maritime law even when those cases may not be strictly limited to navigable waters, such as cases that have a maritime connection even though they occur on land. Read more…
An agent is a person authorized to act on behalf of a company. A Jones Act employer is liable for the actions of his agents if such acts result in the personal injury or death of another.
Allision refers to a collision between a moving vessel or watercraft and a stationary object, such as a pier, bridge, dock, buoy, or another fixed structure in or near navigable waters. Unlike an impact between two vessels, which is typically referred to as a "collision," an allision involves a vessel striking a non-moving object. Read more…
In maritime law, apportionment refers to the legal process of allocating liability for damages resulting from a maritime accident, particularly when multiple parties share some degree of fault or responsibility for the incident. The goal of apportionment is to fairly distribute the financial responsibility for losses among the parties involved in the accident, including shipowners, operators, crew members, and other stakeholders.
Arbitration is an alternative form of dispute resolution outside the court system. In an arbitration, the evidence for the claim is presented to one or more persons, or arbitrators, who then decide the outcome of the claim. The parties are bound by the decision of the arbitrator. Many maritime companies are putting arbitration clauses in seamen’s contracts. The courts will have to decide if arbitration clauses are the equivalent of forum selection clauses, which are void under the terms of section 55 of FELA and therefore should be void in the context of Jones Act claims.
- Bareboat Charter
A type of vessel charter in which the charterer (lessee) assumes control and responsibility for the vessel, including crewing and maintenance, similar to owning the vessel for a period. The boat is essentially “bare” without a crew or provisions, which the lessee is responsible for providing.
A barge is a large flat-bottom boat used to transport bulk products along inland waterways. Barges are generally not self-propelled but are moved up and downstream by tug or towboat. Multiple barges are often moved together, when this occurs they are tied together with rigging and pushed by a towboat together. Read more…
- Bill of Lading
A legal document that serves as a receipt for cargo, a contract for the transportation of goods, and evidence of title to the cargo. It is a crucial document in maritime shipping.
- Bulk Carrier
A bulk carrier is a type of maritime vessel designed for transporting bulk cargo, such as coal, grain, or ore, without the need for individual packaging or containers.
- Certificate of Inspection
Per 46 U.S.C. §3309, all vessels must undergo regular inspection by the Coast Guard. If the vessel is in compliance with all applicable laws, it will be given a certificate of inspection, which must be framed and displayed. Read more…
The term "Chief" in a maritime context generally refers to a senior officer who is in charge of a specific department on a vessel. The exact title and responsibilities can vary depending on the type of vessel and its function, but some common roles with the "Chief" designation include Chief Mate, Chief Engineer, and Chief Steward.
- Chief Mate
The Chief Mate is the first mate on the vessel, the second-in-command after the Captain or Master. The Chief Mate typically oversees the deck department, supervises cargo operations, and assists in navigation and safety.
Generally, the injured seaman will be the claimant in a Jones Act or other maritime injury claim. In the event of death or incapacity of a seaman, their personal representative or the representative of their estate may be the claimant.
- Container Ship
A container ship is a cargo vessel designed to transport standardized intermodal containers, which can be loaded and unloaded to efficiently transfer between sea, rail, and road transport. They vary in size, from smaller vessels carrying a few hundred containers to ultra-large carrying over 20,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). Read more…
- Contributory Negligence
Contributory negligence is the percentage of fault, if any, attributed to the seaman for their own negligent acts which contributed to their injury. In a Jones Act claim, the recovery of an injured seaman may be reduced by their percentage of contributory negligence (when applicable).
- Crew Boat
A crew boat is designed to transport crew members, technicians, and small quantities of supplies or equipment to and from offshore locations, such as oil and gas platforms, wind farms, or other offshore facilities. Read more…
- Crew Member
Traditionally, crew member referred to those who were members of the deck department or contributed to the navigation of the vessel. Today, any person who contributes to a vessel may be considered crew. Read more…
A deckhand is a crew member who performs manual tasks on a ship or boat, such as handling lines, maintaining equipment, and performing general maintenance and cleaning duties on the deck. Deckhands play an essential role in the daily operations of the vessel, ensuring safety and assisting in navigation and docking procedures. Their specific responsibilities can vary based on the type and size of the vessel. Read more…
- Defense Base Act
An extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act that provides the same rights to coverage to civilian workers employed by the United States to work in lands outside of the U.S. This may include certain offshore oil and gas employees and maritime workers. Read more…
A derrick is a lifting device made of a tower or mast and rigging, used primarily to lift and move heavy objects. In maritime contexts, derricks are often found on drilling rigs to handle and support the drill string and related equipment. They can also be used on ships designed for heavy lifting or construction work. The term derrick can also refer to a vessel, like a boat or barge, equipped with a derrick apparatus for such lifting tasks. While derricks serve a similar purpose to cranes, they differ structurally, usually having a fixed mast and a pivoting boom. Read more…
- General Maritime Law
General maritime law refers to the body of legal principles, traditions, and precedents that govern nautical issues and private maritime disputes. Originating from the customs and practices of seafarers, it operates alongside statutory maritime laws and international agreements. General maritime law covers matters like marine salvage, vessel liens, contracts of carriage, and injuries to seamen. Read more…
Hitch is a slang or colloquial term for how long a worker will be stationed or working offshore. The length of the hitch can vary depending on the company, position, and operation. Common hitches might be two weeks on/two weeks off, four weeks on/four weeks off, or other variations. Hitch is most often used to describe the rotation schedule that maritime workers, especially those in the offshore sector, adhere to. Read more…
- Joint and Several Liability
When more than one party is responsible for contributing to the injury of a seaman, the defendants may be found jointly negligent and deemed jointly liable for the judgment awarded to a seaman. Under the theory of joint and several liability, each defendant is fully responsible for the judgment and the judgment may be recovered in full from any one defendant. In a case of joint and several liability, the defendant paying the judgment must then pursue reimbursement or contributions from the other responsible parties. The principle ensures that the injured party can receive full compensation even if one of the at-fault parties is insolvent or cannot pay their share.
- Jones Act
The Jones Act, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute that provides two main provisions: 1) it supports the American maritime industry by requiring that goods shipped between U.S. ports be transported on ships that are built, owned, and operated by U.S. citizens; and 2) it grants seamen the right to seek compensation from employers for injuries suffered at sea as a result of negligence or unseaworthiness. Read more…
A judgment is a formal decision or conclusion reached by a court of law regarding the rights and liabilities of the parties involved in a legal matter. Essentially, it is a ruling. In a maritime context, this might pertain to issues related to maritime contracts, torts, injuries, or losses at sea, and can involve matters like vessel ownership, seamen's injuries, cargo disputes, maritime liens, and other maritime-related disputes. The judgment provides a resolution to the dispute, dictating the legal obligations of the involved parties, which may include the payment of damages or adherence to specific actions.
A lighter is a flat-bottomed barge used to transfer goods and passengers to and from moored ships. Lighters are typically used to transport cargo to and from ships that cannot get close to the shore due to shallow waters, harbor limitations, or inadequate port facilities. The act of transferring cargo between ships and lighters is called "lightering."
A longshoreman is a worker responsible for loading and unloading cargo from ships at a port. These individuals typically work in shipping terminals or ports and handle a variety of cargo, including containers, bulk goods, and other freight. The work can be physically demanding and requires coordination with other members of the port and shipping community. Longshoremen and other land-based maritime workers are typically covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act instead of the Jones Act. Read more…
- Marine Salvage
Marine salvage refers to the process of recovering a ship, its cargo, or other property from peril or loss at sea. The primary objective of marine salvage is to prevent navigational hazards, environmental damage, and economic loss. Salvors, those who undertake salvage operations, are often rewarded for their services based on the value of the property and the degree of danger. Salvage can involve various activities, from refloating sunken ships to removing cargo from stranded vessels. The law of salvage is based on the principle that those who voluntarily assist a ship in distress and succeed in saving property should be compensated for their efforts and risks. Read more…
In terms of maritime law, a "master" refers to the captain or the highest-ranking officer in command of a merchant vessel. The master has ultimate authority over the ship, its crew, and its operations, both at sea and in port. The term is a holdover from early maritime days when the captain was the literal and legal master of his ship and crew.
- Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
In terms of maritime law, maximum medical improvement (MMI) refers to the point at which an injured seaman's medical condition has stabilized, and no further improvement is expected, even with continued medical treatment or therapy. Once a seaman reaches MMI, it indicates that their condition is permanent and they have achieved the best possible recovery. Determining MMI is crucial in Jones Act claims because it helps establish the extent of the seaman's permanent impairment or disability, which in turn impacts the amount of compensation or damages they may be entitled to receive. Read more…
- Military Sealift Command
The Military Sealift Command (MSC) is a United States Navy organization that provides sea transportation of equipment, fuel, supplies, and ammunition to ensure the readiness and sustainment of U.S. armed forces worldwide. Operating largely civilian-manned vessels, the MSC is responsible for the ocean transportation needs of the Department of Defense and ensures that its vessels are available to support military and humanitarian missions. While MSC ships are civilian-crewed, they play a crucial role in support of Navy and other military operations, providing logistics, strategic sealift, as well as specialized missions. Read more…
- Navigable Waters
Under early maritime law, the term navigable waters was restricted to waters affected by the tides. Under current interpretations, navigable waters include interstate or international waters that can be used for commercial transportation. To be allowed the protections of the Jones Act, a seaman must be assigned to a vessel in navigation on a navigable waterway. Lakes that are wholly intrastate but are connected to interstate or international waters by navigable canals, streams, or rivers may be considered navigable waters under the Jones Act.
Negligence refers to the failure to exercise due care, leading to harm or injury. The Jones Act allows seamen to seek compensation if they are injured due to the negligence of their employers or co-workers on a vessel. Essentially, if a seaman can prove negligence contributed to their injury, they may be entitled to damages under this act.
The operator of a Jones Act vessel is the company or agency responsible for the daily operations of the vessel. In some instances, the owner and operator will be the same entity, but there are occasions in which the owner will contract with the operator to maintain the operations of the vessel.
- Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)
The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) refers to the submerged lands, subsoil, and seabed that lie between the states’ seaward jurisdiction and the seaward extent of Federal jurisdiction that is controlled by the Federal Government. The OCS is an area of lucrative oil and gas exploration, production, and development. Injuries that occur on structures temporarily attached to the seabed on the OCS are governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
- Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)
In 1954, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) was passed to govern activity related to the Outer Continental Shelf (Outer Continental Shelf), which is submerged land outside state coastal waters. Primarily, the OCSLA deals with the leasing of the OCS for mineral development; however, it also extends coverage of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act to non-seamen workers injured or killed while working on the OCS in relation to the exploration, development, removal, or transportation of natural resources. The OCSLA determines whether state or federal law applies to an incident occurring on the OCS. Read more…
“Owner” typically refers to the individual, entity, or company that owns, either wholly or in part, a vessel or fleet of vessels. The owner has legal responsibilities and potential liabilities under the Jones Act, especially when it comes to ensuring the safety and seaworthiness of their vessels. When a Jones Act employer is not the owner of the vessel on which the injury or death of a seaman occurs and an unsafe or unseaworthy condition on the vessel contributed to the loss, the vessel owner is responsible under general maritime law for the damages sustained.
- Public Vessels Act
The Public Vessels Act is a federal statute that allows the United States government to be held responsible as a defendant for damages caused by public vessels owned or operated by and for the public service of the federal, state, and municipal governments. This may include personal injuries, deaths, and property damage. Read more…
A remedy is the legal solution or relief granted to redress a grievance. It might include compensation, injunctions, or specific actions to address issues like breaches of contracts or personal injuries. For instance, under the Jones Act, a remedy available to seamen injured due to their employer's negligence is the right to seek compensation for their injuries. This serves as a method to correct or address a legal wrong within the maritime context.
A roustabout refers to a laborer, typically working in the oil and gas industry, responsible for performing unskilled and semi-skilled tasks. In the context of offshore oil rigs, a roustabout carries out general maintenance, assists in loading and unloading equipment, and supports drilling operations. Their duties often serve as an entry point into the industry, and with experience, a roustabout may advance to more specialized roles on a drilling rig. Read more…
A scow is a type of flat-bottomed boat with broad, square ends. Scows are primarily used for carrying cargo, and due to their flat bottoms, they can navigate in shallow waters and be easily beached. They can be found in various sizes, from small, hand-powered versions to larger vessels that are sail or motor-driven. Historically, scows have been used for a range of purposes, including transporting goods on rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.
Traditionally, a seaman refers to any person, including a captain, who is employed or engaged in any capacity on board a vessel. Under the Jones Act, a seaman is someone who spends a significant amount of their employment aboard a vessel in navigable waters and contributes to the vessel's function or mission. The classification under the Jones Act is vital because it determines eligibility for specific legal protections and rights, such as seeking compensation for injuries due to employer negligence or vessel unseaworthiness. Read more…
Seaworthy refers to the condition in which a vessel is suitably equipped, maintained, and in good enough shape to safely handle the ordinary perils of the sea for its intended voyage or operation. This encompasses the ship's physical structure, equipment, crew competence, and other essential factors that might affect its capability to operate safely in maritime environments. A vessel deemed unseaworthy might pose a risk to the crew, cargo, or the environment and can have legal implications, especially if injuries or damages result from its condition.
Settlement is the process by which a legal claim is resolved without a court verdict. In the maritime sector, this might involve disputes related to ship collisions, cargo claims, personal injuries, or wrongful deaths at sea. A settlement often entails financial compensation or other terms acceptable to both parties, allowing them to avoid the time, expense, and unpredictability of litigation. Once agreed upon, a settlement is legally binding.
- Ship Arrest
This refers to the process by which a ship is detained and prevented from departing a port due to a maritime claim against the vessel or its owner. The arrest serves as a form of security to ensure that claims, often related to unpaid debts like crew wages, damages from collisions, salvage claims, or breaches of maritime contracts, can be satisfied. Once a vessel is arrested, it cannot be moved or operated until the legal claim is resolved or a satisfactory security (like a monetary bond) is provided. The process of vessel arrest helps claimants secure their claims, especially in situations where the shipowner is from another jurisdiction or is deemed financially unreliable. Read more…
- Spud Barge
A spud barge is a flat-bottomed boat equipped with heavy poles, known as spuds, which can be raised or lowered. When lowered, these spuds dig into the riverbed, seabed, or lakebed, anchoring the barge in place and preventing it from drifting due to currents or wind. Spud barges are often used in construction, dredging, and other marine projects where a stable work platform on the water is needed. Read more…
- Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations refers to the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. After this period, claims or lawsuits are typically barred. Under the Jones Act, for example, a seaman has three years from the date of injury to file a lawsuit against an employer for negligence. If the seaman fails to bring a claim within this three-year window, they generally lose the right to pursue that claim in court. This timeframe underscores the importance of timely legal action in maritime disputes.
A stevedore is an individual or company responsible for the loading and unloading of cargo on and off ships in ports. The term can refer both to the entities that manage and organize the cargo operations (often called stevedoring companies) and the workers who physically handle the cargo. The tasks involved may include stowing cargo aboard ships, securing cargo for transit, and ensuring the efficient and safe movement of goods between ships and the dock. In some regions, stevedores are also known as longshoremen or dock workers. Read more…
- Tank Vessel/Tanker
A tank vessel is a ship designed to transport liquid cargo in bulk. This includes oil tankers that carry crude oil, refined petroleum products, or other hydrocarbon-based liquids, and chemical tankers that transport various chemicals in bulk. Tankers are built with a series of tanks internally subdivided to store liquid cargo. The design, construction, and operation of tank vessels are subject to specific regulations and standards, given the potential environmental and safety risks associated with transporting large volumes of liquid, especially when they are hazardous or pollutant.
- Territorial Waters
Territorial waters refer to the coastal waters extending up to 12 nautical miles from a nation's shoreline. Within this zone, the country has full sovereignty, meaning its laws and regulations apply. For the United States, this means U.S. laws govern activities within its 12-nautical-mile territorial waters, and any violations can be subject to legal action.
Also known as tugs, tugboats are powerful, robust vessels designed to push or tow vessels, often large ships, in harbors, along canals, or through narrow or congested waters. Tugboats assist ships in docking, undocking, and maneuvering in tight spaces where the larger vessel's engines and rudders cannot effectively control their movement. Due to their strength and agility, tugboats play an essential role in ensuring the safe navigation of larger vessels, especially in ports and crowded waterways. Read more…
The term “unseaworthy” describes a vessel that is not fit or safe for its intended purpose or voyage due to defects, deficiencies, or conditions that might pose a risk to the crew, cargo, or the environment. This can relate to structural issues, faulty equipment, insufficient crew training, or any other circumstance that compromises the ship's safety or its ability to navigate and operate in maritime conditions. Being deemed unseaworthy can have legal implications, particularly if it results in damage, loss, or injury.
In terms of maritime law and the Jones Act, "venue" refers to the appropriate location or jurisdiction where a lawsuit or legal action should be filed and adjudicated. The concept of venue is crucial in maritime cases because maritime activities often span multiple jurisdictions, and certain courts might be more favorable or applicable based on the specifics of the case. Under the Jones Act, which protects seamen injured due to employer negligence, considerations like where the vessel operates, where the injury occurred, and where the parties reside can influence the choice of venue. Properly establishing venue ensures that the case is heard in the right court.
A maritime vessel is broadly defined as any watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water. This includes not only traditional ships and boats but also offshore oil and gas platforms, drilling rigs, floating storage units, and other structures that are designed to function in a maritime setting. The legal definition of a vessel can have significant implications for matters like jurisdiction, regulations, and the rights of workers on these structures, especially under laws such as the Jones Act.
- Vicarious Liability
In maritime law, vicarious liability refers to the principle where one party, typically a shipowner or employer, is held responsible for the acts or omissions of another party, usually the crew or employees, while they are acting within the scope of their employment. This means that if a crew member commits a negligent act that harms another, the shipowner or employer can be held liable for the resulting damages, even if they were not directly negligent. The rationale behind vicarious liability is to ensure that injured parties can seek compensation from entities with the means to pay and to encourage shipowners and employers to ensure proper training and supervision of their crews.
For more information and to discuss your rights after a maritime injury, call (888) 346-5024.