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Defining a “vessel in navigation”

The maritime industry can present several unique risks and dangers to those in Manhattan who are employed in it. Thus, such workers rely on the Jones Act to afford them the protections needed to feel confident enough to work at sea. Indeed, according to the Cornell Law School, the Jones Act not only allows a maritime worker to collect maintenance and cure benefits to help cover the costs of any injury they sustain while in the service of their vessels, but also to bring legal action against the owners of said vessels if needed. The extent of such protection, however, depends on the type of vessel one works on. 

Per the International Risk Management Institute, the Jones Act covers only “vessels in navigation.” Exactly how does the act define a vessel in navigation? It must meet the following four criteria: 

  • It must be afloat
  • It must be in operation
  • It must be capable of moving
  • It must be operating in navigable waters

For the purposes of this particular act of legislation, “navigable waters” are determined to be those that are capable of being used for interstate and foreign commerce. 

This definition might actually exclude certain vessels from protection under the Jones Act. For example, a ship that has yet to be commissioned is not considered to be in operation, and thus may not be covered. This is true even if the vessel is being tested out on open waters. Another may be oil platforms, as such structures are typically anchored to the sea floor (and are thus incapable of moving). However, recent years have seen the deployment of unanchored platforms that can indeed be moved to different locations. Those serving on them might indeed be covered under this statute. 

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