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What does 'unseaworthiness' mean?

It is a ship owner’s duty to provide a seaworthy vessel, one that is safe for New Yorkers to work on, according to Accessible Marine Insurance. If you are injured due to an unsafe condition, you may claim it is due to the unseaworthiness of the vessel. Offshore drilling rigs, barges, helicopters, floating casinos and more can be classified as a vessel in a broad legal sense.

Unseaworthiness typically applies to conditions that are avoidable or able to be corrected and can come to light under a variety of circumstances, including defective gear, an under-manned crew, cargo-loading methods and more. Here are a few more:

  • Improper equipment or lack of elevator to lift workers onto platforms, oil rigs and ships
  • Cramped bunk areas that do not allow enough headroom or ladders to get to bunks
  • Proper food preparation and storage, as well as an adequate amount of provisions
  • Lack of safety lines, proper scaffolding and other safety equipment
  • Vessel structure, which also includes the type of materials used in construction. For example, asbestos used in construction and never removed.

In addition to these conditions, a poor vessel design that causes instability or any of a variety of damaged, worn or defective equipment that causes injuries can also be deemed unseaworthy. Worn and slippery surfaces are one of the top causes of injury to seamen, as well as offshore workers. Some lifting injuries may not even be caused by lifting something in the wrong manner but instead may be due to slippery or poorly maintained surfaces, including decks.

It is up to a jury to decide if the burden of proof has been met in deciding on a settlement. Since court decisions have made it clear what is expected of “seaworthy” vessels based on actual incidents and situations, the doctrine of unseaworthiness may continue to expand, adding new conditions as they occur.

The information in this article is general in nature and is not meant to be legal advice. 

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