The LeadersIn Maritime Law

What Is a Seaman?

Put into its most simple terms, a seaman is someone who is employed on a ship's crew. The maritime term seaman could refer to an individual who holds a noncommissioned rank in the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard, or it someone who works on a vessel for their career, including handling, sailing, and navigating the ship.

Requirements of Ordinary Seamen

Ordinary seaman (OS) is an entry level position on a ship. To qualify as an OS, you do not need to have any previous experience, pass any particular exams, or have specific training. OS are hired to be trained on the job, and can either advance to become able seaman (explained below) or work in the engine department.

What is an Able Bodied Seaman?

Able-bodied seaman or AB (sometimes also called able seamen) are individuals with specific training and vessel experience. In almost all cases, an individual must have an AB certification to be considered for hire; one exception occurs when a vessel hires an AB apprentice to work toward certification.

To achieve AB certification, an individual must:

  • Be 18 years or older
  • Pass a medical exam
  • Serve at least six months on a vessel
  • Receive proper training
  • Pass an exam to qualify as lifeboatman & AB
  • Speak adequate English

Individual seamen seeking AB certification will be tested not only on survival techniques, but also on their ability to prevent and fight fires and to administer first aid.

The following ranks can be achieved with certain experience:

  • AB-Sail – 6 Months
  • AB-Fishing Industry – 6 Months
  • AB-Offshore Supply Vessel – 6 Months
  • AB-Mobile Offshore Unit – 12 months
  • AB-Special – 12 Months
  • AB-Limited – 18 Months
  • AB-Unlimited – 36 Months

Once a seaman is certified, they will need to carry two credentials at all time. The first is the Transportation Worker Identification Certification (TWIC) card; the second is their merchant mariner credential (MMC).

Do I qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act?

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more commonly referred to as the Jones Act, provides legal protection to seamen who are injured, become ill, or are killed during their employment. This protection, however, only applies to individuals who meet the requirements for seaman status, which include the following:

  • Must contribute to the function of a vessel, or accomplishment of its mission.
  • Must have a connection with a vessel in navigation substantial in duration and nature.

In most cases, the vessel's crewmembers will qualify as seamen so long as the vessel is in navigation. This includes individuals who work on tankers, freighters, jack-up rigs, towboats and tugs, as well as barges. Individuals who typically do not qualify include longshoremen, harbor workers, and pilots.

Want to know if you qualify as a seaman? Contact Arnold & Itkin today at (888) 346-5024.

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