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Maritime Law Glossary

To help you get the most out of the Jones Act and maritime law information on our website, our maritime lawyers have prepared this list of related 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 for a free consultation with a maritime accident 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 through 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 Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act are administrative claims filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Governmental 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
    The term admiralty generally refers to issues of maritime law and the courts that have jurisdiction over such issues. A Jones Act claim may be brought with a designation that it is filed in admiralty, which allows the injured seaman to proceed with his case before the bench or the judge of the court rather than a jury.

  • Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act
    The Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act was an act of legislature that extended federal jurisdiction of admiralty courts over cases involving injuries or damage on land that were caused by a vessel on navigable waters.

  • Allision
    When a moving object strikes a stationary object. For example, a moving vessel that runs into a stationary bridge fender.

  • Agent
    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.

  • Apportionment
    The process of determining a defendant’s proportionate share of liability.

  • Arbitration
    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 to an arbitration 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.


  • Barge
    A barge is a large flat-bottom boat that is used in the transportation of bulk product along inland waterways such as rivers and canals. 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.


  • Certificate of Inspection
    Per 46 U.S.C. §3309, all vessels must undergo regular inspection by the Coast Guard. If the vessel is found to be in compliance with all applicable laws, they will be given a certificate of inspection, which must be framed and displayed.

  • Chief
    The chief on the vessel is the chief engineer.

  • Chief Mate
    The chief mate is the first mate on the vessel.

  • Claimant
    Generally, the injured seaman will be the claimant in a Jones Act claim. In the event of death or incapacity of a seaman, his personal representative or the representative of his estate may step into his shoes as claimant.

  • Containerships
    These vessels are designed to carry containerized cargo. They are measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), evolving over the years to become much larger and much faster. The newest containerships can exceed 14,500 TEUs.

  • Contributory Negligence
    Contributory negligence is the percentage of fault, if any, attributed to the seaman for his own negligent acts which contributed to his injury. In a claim, the recovery is reduced by the percentage of his contributory negligence.

  • Crew Boat
    A boat (less than 500 gross tonnage) used to transfer personnel and cargo to vessels and offshore structures.

  • Crewmember
    Traditionally the term crewmember referred to those individuals who were members of the deck department or who contributed to the navigation of the vessel. In a Jones Act claim, the term is expanded to cover any individual who furthers the function of the vessel.


  • 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.


  • Hitch
    The period of service for a maritime worker; a slang or colloquial term for how long a worker will be stationed or working offshore.


  • Joint and Several Liability
    When more than one party is responsible for contributing to 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.

  • Jones Act
    The Jones Act is a Federal Statute intended to extend to seamen the protections previously provided to railway workers under FELA. The Jones Act allows a seaman to bring a lawsuit against his employer for negligent acts of the employer or a fellow crewmember.

  • Judgment
    A judgment is an order, generally the final order, issued by a court to resolve a lawsuit. The judgment sets forth the terms of resolution and any obligations created by those terms. A judgment may either be an entry of the court’s verdict and outcome or an entry of an agreed outcome by the parties stipulating to the terms of the judgment.


  • Lighter
    A lighter is a type of barge used to transport goods or products to and from moored vessels.

  • Longshoreman – Land-based maritime workers and other maritime workers not covered by the Jones Act primarily employed in ports to load and unload ships.


  • Master
    The term master refers to the captain of a vessel. It is a holdover from early days when the captain was the literal and legal master of his ship and crew.

  • Military Sealift Command
    A division of the U.S. Navy that is solely responsible to accommodate the ocean transportation needs of the Department of Defense and the branches of the U.S. military. The fleet, owned by the U.S. Navy, is largely manned by civilian government employees who support the departments in a variety of capacities.


  • Navigable Waters
    Under early maritime law, the term navigable water was restricted to waters affected by the tides. Under current interpretation, 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 for the purposes of the Jones Act.

  • Negligence
    In general terms, negligence is a failure to act in a reasonably safe and cautious manner with regard to injury; and this may be the result of an overt act or a failure to act. Under the Jones Act, a seaman must prove negligence on the part of his employer or a fellow crewmember in order to recover his damages. Only slight negligence is required to successfully pursue a Jones Act claim.


  • Operator
    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 which occur on structures temporarily attached to the seabed on the OCS are governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (see below).

  • Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)
    In 1954, OCSLA was passed to govern activity related to the outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which is submerged land outside state coastal waters. Primarily, OCSLA deals with the leasing of the OCS for mineral development; however, it also extends coverage of LHWCA to non-seamen workers injured or killed while working on the OCS in relation to the exploration, development, removal, or transportation of natural resources. OCSLA determines whether state or federal law applies to an incident occurring on the Outer Continental Shelf.

  • Owner – 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 statute which 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.


  • Remedy - A remedy is the legal means by which a Jones Act employer or responsible third party is held liable for the loss suffered by an injured seaman. The damages awarded to a seaman in a Jones Act claim constitute the remedy. An injunction against a vessel owner or employer enjoining them from a particular act or behavior would be another type of remedy available in a Jones Act claim.


  • Scow
    A scow is a large flat bottom boat, sometimes used to carry mud from a dredge.

  • Seaman
    Under the traditional sense a seaman is a member of a ship’s crew. The beginning grade of member of the deck department on a vessel is an ordinary seaman. The next grade in the hierarchy on the vessel is an able bodied or AB seaman. For the purpose of achieving status under the Jones Act, a seaman is any member of the crew or worker contributing to the overall purpose and function of the vessel.

  • Settlement
    Settlement is the process by which a legal claim is resolved without a court verdict. Settlement is achieved when the parties to the claim reach an agreement as to liability and damages. The majority of Jones Act cases end in settlement.

  • Statute of Limitations
    The statute of limitations is the time limit for filing a legal claim. The limit on filing Jones Act and general maritime claims is three years from the date of the incident or injury. There are certain situations that result in a reduced time limit so an experienced maritime attorney should be consulted to confirm the time frame for an individual claim.


  • Tank Vessel
    A tanker is a vessel designed to carry various types of liquid cargo. Tankers carrying oil and gasoline present additional dangers in the event of collision because of the chance of fire or explosion placing the seamen on these vessels at an increased risk for injury or loss of life.

  • Territorial Waters
    The territorial waters of the states extend 3 nautical miles from the coastline of the state. This is the area of the water that is considered as the sovereign territory of the state.

  • Tugboat
    Also known as tugs, tugboats are small vessels that are used to either tow or push vessels. These operations can take place in the open ocean, in harbors, or in canals and rivers.


  • Unseaworthy
    Traditionally seaworthiness referred to a vessel capable of being put to sea and able to withstand sea conditions. Under general maritime law and the Jones Act, an owner has an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel, but in this sense the term includes insuring that the vessel and all of its parts and equipment are properly serviced and reasonably fit for their intended purpose as well as insuring that the vessel is properly manned and supplied for the job it is intended to complete. This includes providing a crew that is adequate in number and properly trained to perform the duties assigned.


  • Venue
    In a Jones Act claim, venue refers to the location of the court in which the claim will be filed. In a Jones Act case, venue is proper in the judicial district in which the defendant company resides or has its principal place of business.

  • Vessel
    In order to be covered under the Jones Act you must have a relatively permanent attachment to a “vessel”. The term includes jack-up rigs, semi-submersible rigs, and any mobile offshore drilling unit. Anything that can be moved or towed to a new location at the end of a job and is capable of transporting goods or personnel is generally classified as a vessel.

  • Vessel Arrest -- When a shipowner fails to make payments on the vessel mortgage and causes the lien to become delinquent, the creditor can request for the court to issue a warrant for the arrest of the vessel. The vessel will be taken into custody by the U.S. Marshall and the shipowner will not be able to us it until payments are made or a settlement is negotiated.

  • Vicarious Liability
    Vicarious liability is liability placed on a company for the acts of its employees or agents. A company may be found vicariously liable for damages sustained in a personal injury claim if an agent or employee acting on behalf of the company causes injury to another.

Learn more about your legal rights - contact an offshore injury lawyer at our firm today: (888) 346-5024.

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