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Sail Boat Racing, Power Boat Racing & Legal Liability Under Maritime Law

“Plain English, with no sugarcoating, no lawyer talk, no double talk. Just old fashioned, unsweetened truth.” Maritime Lawyer - Bill Turley

Maritime Lawyer

Maritime Law: Sail Boat Racing, Power Boat Racing & Legal Liability

For many, sailing ranges from fun to a way of life.  Being on the ocean can be empowering and  exhilarating. However the fun and exhilaration can quickly turn to tragedy.

When this happens, it is a maritime lawyer’s job to determine liability. That is, is someone legal responsible for the injuries and deaths that occur during sailboat racing or pwoer boat racing?

This article concerns sailboat racing or power boat on navigable waters, such the open ocean or San Diego Harbor or San Francisco Bay. When boating accidents occur on navigable waters, admiralty jurisdiction is invoked. Meaning, admiralty law applies.

In this article we will  start with the Captain’s responsibilities toward the crew or passengers aboard his or her vessel. The Captain is always responsible for the safety of passengers aboard the vessel. The Captain owes passengers a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances.  That is, the law looks at the totality of the circumstances in order to determine whether the Captain of a vessel breached their duty of care to the passengers.

I want to differentiate passengers from crew members. A crew member will be afforded much stronger rights and remedies as against the vessel and the employer.  In these terms a crew member is employed by the vessel. For example, I have represented employee crew members of America’s Cup teams. And I have represented crew members that crew full on racing yachts. These are called Jones Act Seaman under Maritime law.  They have what is called “Seaman Status.”

These Seaman have the most powerful right and remedies of any workers in America. They can bring Jones Act negligence claims, unseaworthiness claims and maintenance and cure claims.

In addition, some crew member may not qualify for Jones Act Seaman status, but may qualify for what the law calls “Seriacki Seaman.”  However, in order to qualify as a Seriacki Seaman, you have to be an employee.

Everyone else, while maybe called a crew member (for example on a volunteer racing team), will be termed a passenger for Maritime Law purposes. Which brings us back to the Captain owing passengers a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances.

The Captain can breach various duties to the passengers. These range from violating what Maritime Law calls the Rules of the Road, failing to properly maintain the vessel, failing to adequately issue Mayday and other distress calls. In my next article, I will address these in more depth.

Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation. Thanks, Bill Turley

William Turley
“When I seek out professional advice, I don’t want B.S., I want it straight up. I figure you do also.”

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