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Boat Charter Liability

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What Is a Boat Charter?

Boat chartering refers to the practice of hiring or renting a boat for personal use. It is basically a like a rental or lease allowing a person to use a boat for a specified period of time. They can be obtained for recreational purposes such as a personal cruise or for business reasons like shipping goods.

Chartering a boat is usually done for a fee, which is calculated based on the time of usage or the amount of cargo being shipped. Boat charters are becoming an increasingly popular way to save costs on extended voyages. The different types of chartering arrangements are classified according to whether a crew is hired or not.

What Are Some Common Types of Boat Charter Arrangements?

There are many different types of boat charter arrangements. Each carries different legal responsibilities due to differences in crew management and the types of boats involved. Some common types of boat charter arrangements include:

  • Bareboat charter: Hiring a boat without a crew or captain. In this case possession of the boat is transferred to the patron, who may then hire their own crew. The transfer of possession is the main characteristic of this type of charter. Also called a “demise charter”
  • Time charter or voyage charter: The boat or yacht is leased along with a captain and crew provided by the owner of the vessel. In this way the boat owner effectively retains possession of the boat through the captain and crew
  • Skippered charter: Along with the boat or sea vessel, a professional captain (the “skipper”) is hired to maneuver the craft. Sometimes the skipper will be assisted by various other crew members as well. This type of charter is common for yachts and larger boats that require special skill and experience

Of these types of charters, bareboat charters are the most common. Sometimes a person can charter a boat through the use of a charter broker company or an agency company. This is very similar to a cruise or travel agency, except it is much more specialized. Charter broker companies often have extensive networks which allow them to provide a boat which meets the patron’s individual needs.

Who Is Liable for Injuries or Damages in a Boat Charter Agreement? 

Liability for damages incurred during a chartered voyage depends on the type of charter. There can often be several different parties involved in the endeavor, including the broker, the boat owner, the captain and crew, and the party using the boat.

Legal responsibility will vary depending on the situation, but in general the following parties may have some amount of liability:

  • Owner of the vessel: The vessel owner is usually required to keep the ship or boat in safe working condition. They should inspect the boat for hazards and take steps to minimize accidents while on board
  • The captain and crew: Such persons have a legal responsibility to operate the boat according to maritime laws and standards. They should be able to furnish proof of certification or licensing. 
  • The charterer (the party hiring the boat): The party hiring the boat or crew has a responsibility to avoid contributing to their own injury. This includes obeying ship rules and preventing illegal uses of the boat. 
  • The charter broker company: Usually legal liability for such companies is limited to such issues as contracts and fee arrangements. They are rarely held liable for injuries as they are typically removed from the chain of causation.

Depending on the circumstances, liability may spread amongst the several different parties listed above. For example, if the vessel owner is also responsible for hiring a crew, they may be liable if they hire an unlicensed person to act as captain. Likewise, the captain of the crew might be held liable to the vessel owner if they damage the ship. 

Liability in a chartering arrangement can be complex as there are many levels of interaction between the parties. Principles of vicarious liability may be used to determine which parties are liable to another for damages or injuries. Also, international maritime laws may apply if the voyage is to another country.

What If I Choose to Act as Skipper in a Bareboat Charter?

A common setup involves friends or businesspersons pooling their resources together for a bareboat charter. Often, one of these persons is qualified and will act as skipper for the group. In such cases, the qualified person will incur the responsibilities of a paid captain even if he is not being paid. Thus, although the charter is technically a bareboat type and not a skippered type, the acting skipper will be held to a higher standard of care.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Boat Charter?

As you can see, boat chartering can be a very complex process involving several different parties. You should contact a lawyer if you have issues regarding boat charters. You may also wish to consult a lawyer if you will be drafting a contract for a boat charter.

Photo of page author Kristen Johnson

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 05-15-2017 03:27 PM PDT

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