What does it mean for a vessel to be unseaworthy?

October 9 2022 | Maritime Law

While individuals in many careers are considered at risk for injuries, workers in most occupations face hazards on nearly every shift. Even though there is overlap in several injury types such as broken bones, head trauma or toxic exposure, some occupations carry unique risk factors. Workers on a seafaring vessel, for example, face both harsh environmental conditions and the possibility of structural damage leading to injury.

If injured on the job, a person could file a claim of unseaworthiness against the owner of the vessel to seek monetary compensation. While many people understand the general concept of unseaworthiness, they might not understand the technical components as they relate to the legal process. Common examples of unseaworthiness can include:

  • Poor condition: If the vessel lacks the proper maintenance, workers can suffer devastating injuries. From missing non-skid pads to the lack of protective rubber stoppers, the ship’s condition itself can introduce new dangers to an already hazardous environment.
  • Missing gear: In general, if the vessel is missing safety equipment or warning signs in dangerous areas it can lead to life-threatening accidents. This missing information and gear can lead authorities to consider it unseaworthy.
  • Inadequate training: While the vessel’s condition and maintenance of its equipment are common contributors to unseaworthiness, inadequate training and lack of experience can lead to a dangerous environment. This can stem from excessive working hours, lack of adherence to OSHA guidelines or an insufficient number of crew members.

Essentially, experts consider the vessel unseaworthy if the physical condition, worker training or the ship’s equipment is not fit for its intended purpose. The vessel could be capable of sailing but still fall under the doctrine of unseaworthiness. Based on this doctrine, injured maritime workers can seek monetary compensation after an accident.


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