Are You Legally Responsible?

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Posted by: Captain Woody - Comments Off on Are You Legally Responsible?

As Master of your vessel what does it mean to say, “Welcome Come on Aboard”Grounded Boat Cartoon

Any boat owner either recreational or commercial assumes the duties of Captain or Master as soon as they take command of a vessel. Therefore, whenever a person accepts control they also assume and have a duty to think about the degree of liability associated with operating a safe vessel. They also have an obligation to warn passengers about items that might cause them injury along with other risk factors unrelated to the vessel that may be encountered while underway, at anchor or while conducting business i.e. a charter for example.

When a visitor boards the vessel you’re probably thinking more about having a great fishing trip or enjoyable boat ride than worrying about the legal accountabilities you’re assuming as “Captain.” However, if someone were to trip, stumble or fall and become injured boarding or while onboard, you can bet you would quickly consider “what”, if anything could have been done to prevent the injury or whether you might be liable.

The question of liability is immersed in maritime legal principles dating back to the Maritime insurance with origins in the Greek and Roman Mediterranean shipping days. Admiralty law starts with the premise that the captain owes his guest a duty to exercise ordinary or reasonable care for their safety.

What constitutes reasonable care can be complicated especially on a boat. It has a lot to do with the experience of the captain and the boating experience of the passengers; or whether the boat captain had or should have known of some dangerous condition. Additionally, it may depend on whether the captain knew or should have known whether his guest was unaware of or unfamiliar with the conditions.Banana Peel

The obligation to exercise reasonable care is rooted in the duties of the captain to provide a reasonably safe vessel for the guest. On the other hand, this does not require that the boat be accident proof. Under the regulations, the standard of care requires the captain to provide a boat that is reasonably safe, not one that is absolutely safe.

A guest also has self-responsibility; which means they have an obligation to exercise care for their own safety. A guest simply cannot walk blindly around the boat. Then again, reasonable care does mean that a captain knowing of an unstable condition may be held accountable for failure to warn his guest of that condition. As the captain you should always remember; as soon as you identify a problem, do not find a solution and make the necessary repairs, it immediately becomes your problem.

Therefore, as captain, you have the responsibility to warn an unsuspecting guest when you are aware of a hazardous situation on your vessel. Further, you have a responsibility to warn guests about possible risks that are unrelated to your boat, but which are all around you, passing boat wakes, severe weather, tidal changes, etc. And, even if you are unaware of a loose railing, wobbly step, etc. or you don’t see an approaching boat wake, you may still be liable for any injuries that result.

So remember, the next time you welcome someone aboard, an injury could result in a lawsuit that, win or lose, could cost you your livelihood. “SAFETY IS AN ECONOMICAL AND EFFECTIVE INSURANCE POLICY”