Unseaworthiness describes a vessel or any of its parts or machinery that is not reasonably fit for its intended use. Unseaworthiness can also describe the vessel’s crew if they are not reasonably competent or skilled to perform the assigned work. Under the Jones Act, a vessel owner has a duty to provide and maintain a seaworthy vessel.

When is a Vessel “Seaworthy”?

In order for a vessel to be deemed "seaworthy," it must:

  • Supply at all times, proper equipment and safety gear to seamen
  • Provide a safe environment for seaman to work and reside in
  • Adhere to all safety requirements for operating vessels

Who May File Unseaworthiness Claim?

Seamen, or their families, typically file unseaworthiness claims against the vessel’s owner, who may also be their employer. Passengers may not hold a chartered vessel liable under the seaworthiness doctrine, but may bring a claim against the vessel’s owner in a negligence suit based on the unseaworthiness of the vessel.

In cases of death on the high seas because of an unseaworthy vessel, a family member may initiate a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act. Under this Act, a family may recover damages in the form of lost services.

How Do I File an Unseaworthiness Claim?

To establish an unseaworthiness claim, four elements must be satisfied:

  • The unseaworthiness doctrine pertains to the plaintiff
  • An injury was caused by the vessel’s machinery, crew or other part
  • The crew, machinery, or vessel were not fit for their intended purpose
  • The unseaworthiness condition was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries

A vessel owner or defendant may decrease his liability by showing that the plaintiff’s own negligent behavior or act was a factor in causing the injuries he incurred.

Should I Consult an Attorney about my Unseaworthiness Claim?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed while employed as a seaman, it may be wise to contact an experienced maritime or admiralty law attorney. Speaking with a maritime or admiralty law lawyer will help you understand your rights and preserve any possible remedies.