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Crew Safety: A Skipper's Number One Priority

Posted by Robert T. Karns | Mar 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

Maintaining crew safety on commercial vessels is one of the most important responsibilities of a sea captain. When a crewman is injured due to the captain's negligence, he or she is eligible to receive medical care and renumeration for lost pay, and may also sue for other financial damages under a section of U.S. Maritime Law known as the Jones Act.

A Recent Case of Clear Negligence on the Part of the Captain

In a recent case involving the captain of a lobster boat named No Limits, failing to maintain the crew's safety resulted in not only a civil suit, but criminal charges of seaman's manslaughter. This law charges the captain in the event of crewmen's death, if it is found that the captain's negligence or action has led to the event.

The vessel went out on a trap retrieving expedition against warning by the weather service of an impending storm and as a result two young crew hands were deemed lost at sea. The captain who survived the ordeal was found to have drugs in his system when he made the ill-fated decision to go out. This story is a heart wrenching example of what happens when a sea captain fails to ensure the safety of his crew.

Heeding Adverse Weather Notices

Boat skippers are expected to stay informed of any weather notices along the chartered course. Through the use of technological advances in weather tracking, as well as improved weather instruments, commercial fleets are better able to plan around storms and severe changes in weather that can put crews at risk. While it is still possible for storms to creep up, every reasonable effort should be made to avoid dangerously inclement weather.

Securing Medical Attention for the Crew

It is the captain's responsibility to ensure that the crew is fit for duty at all times. This can involve ensuring medical checks, making sure that crew members are treated when ill or injured and providing the proper nutrition and facilities to help the crew maintain their health. Before leaving the dock, captains are also responsible for ensuring that all cargo is secured properly and poses no health risk to the crew manning the ship.

Having a Security Plan

A ship security plan is now a requirement by the International Organization ISPS Code. This plan is to include security measures that are not only in effect for the vessel when out on the open water, but also while in port. Security plans detail safety protocols in the event of armed robbery, piracy, and even stowed away refugees. The plan will also include detailed instructions for regular inspections as well as policy for designated restricted spaces. These policies are to ensure the safety of you and your crew crew against security and terrorist threats both on ship and on shore.

Maintaining Safety Equipment

Safety equipment on a vessel can be the difference between life and death. Captains have the responsibility to ensure all necessary safety equipment on board and in functioning order. In addition, all crew members must know the location of the equipment and be properly trained in its use and deployment.

Keeping a Log of All Injuries

In the event an accident or injury occurs on a ship, boat skippers are required to make sure the incident is recorded in the ship's log. The record should contain details such as witnesses, evidence, and resolutions linked to the incident. This log will not only help to maintain a record in case the crew member should need additional attention or have problems later, but also protect the captain in the event of a deeper investigation. 

Injured on a Commercial Boat? Talk to a Maritime Law Attorney.

The safety of a commercial boat's crew is the most important responsibility assigned to a captain. If you were injured at sea while serving aboard a commercial vessel, discuss your case with an attorney with knowledge of U.S. Maritime Law to determine whether the boat owner or captain bears liability for damages.

About the Author

Robert T. Karns

Founding Attorney


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