What makes a vessel unseaworthy?

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2024 | Commercial Seamen |

When you step onto a vessel as a commercial seaman, you expect it to be a safe place to work. However, not every ship meets the necessary safety standards, and you may find yourself in dangerous conditions that the law considers “unseaworthy.” The concept of unseaworthiness covers more than just the physical condition of the ship itself. It extends to the adequacy of the equipment, the crew’s competence and the safety of the working environment.

The factors that determine the unseaworthiness of a vessel

You need to know what factors can make a vessel unseaworthy so you can identify when your work environment may not be up to par. Here are some of the most crucial factors:

  • Poor maintenance: Modern ships rely on sophisticated navigation systems. These systems must receive proper maintenance to ensure they provide accurate information to avoid navigational errors. Furthermore, essential machinery like the engine, winches and steering systems need regular checks and upkeep. Failure to maintain these can lead to critical malfunctions at sea.
  • Inadequate crew: A ship needs a well-trained and sufficiently sized crew to operate safely. Understaffing and lack of training could lead to a claim of unseaworthiness.
  • Defective equipment: All equipment on board must function correctly from the engine room to the deck. Any tools or machinery that are faulty or prone to failure can make a vessel unseaworthy
  • Unsafe practices and procedures: Safety procedures are in place for a reason. If the ship’s management fails to enforce safety standards or implement proper procedures, they are not providing a seaworthy environment.

Under maritime law, specifically the Jones Act, you have the right to work on a seaworthy vessel. If your work environment does not meet these standards, you may have grounds for a negligence or unseaworthiness claim. You may recover more compensation with the latter.

Remember, the responsibility for maintaining a seaworthy vessel lies with the shipowner. Proving your employer knew about the vessel’s unseaworthiness will not be necessary. They must ensure that the vessel, its equipment and the crew are ready for their intended purpose at the start of every voyage.