It’s only spring, but already at the yacht club the jabs are flying. Reasonable opinions will differ. Just who cut off who while under sail, in proximity to a motor boat, without the shore in sight, or – no kidding – when confronted by a tanker.
For many a weekend captain at the helm on the waterways the only training is a voluntary Coast Guard course or whoever else he has sailed with over the years. Unlike obtaining a state-issued driver’s license, there isn’t even an eyesight test. And, while I intuitively know that it exists somewhere, I have yet to see a hornbook of law that could kept aboard ship to avoid being marched down the gangplank when these disagreements come up.
The field of admiralty law is highly specialized. It can apply to local and international law, depending not only on the location of the waterway, but also the ship’s registry. Maritime law can govern everything from day-to-day operations to its crew and its cargo, right along to which vessel has the right of way relative to type of vessel and position relative to visible land.
There are a variety of laws that apply, but which are not too often discussed, even at the bar association. Can you remember what you might have learned in law school about, for example, the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Act? With some legal principles dating back to “BC” dates it is little wonder that there are experts dedicated to maritime and admiralty law.
An expert witness in admiralty law can include credentials from a decree in maritime law at any one of a number of colleges, particularly in the United Kingdom, other European country, or the US. It is also a field where credentials can include military service upon the seas, officers and crew of freight companies, ferry companies, and cruise ships. And expert witnesses in maritime disputes can include even the manufacturers of sea vessels, providing design and tolerance expertise for the sea-worthiness of various vessels in various conditions.
By: Paloma A. Capanna, Attorney at Law