A charter boat is a vessel rented (chartered) to carry passengers for hire. Typically, the owner or the owner’s captain and crew retain control of the vessel during the charter period. Charter boats range widely in size and shape. They include sailing vessels, tour boats, private yachts, and even barges. However, the most common type of charter boat is likely the fishing charter boat.
Various charter boats can stay local in rivers and harbors or head offshore depending on their build and crew. Charter boats may or may not be inspected by the United States Coast Guard for the safe carriage of paying passengers. The captain should likely have at least a limited mariner’s license from the Coast Guard. Larger charter vessels carrying more than 6 passengers should be inspected annually by the Coast Guard and its crew regularly trained on man overboard, firefighting, and flood control. There is a major issue in the United States right now with uninspected vessels carrying paying passengers without proper crew licenses, inspections, and insurance. The Coast Guard is increasing enforcement against these illegal charter operators with very heavy fines. Even so, both legal and illegal vessels charters harm passengers and crewmembers every year.
Charter boat injuries usually result from negligence on the vessel owner, operator, or crew. Examples of negligence may include:
Navigational Errors (like hitting another vessel or stationary object)
Equipment Failure (like engines, pumps, or hydraulics)
Improper Crew Training
Lack of Safety Equipment
Accidents resulting from negligence aboard charter boats can range from minor to severe. Collisions and sinkings are unfortunately common. Still other injuries come from safety issues that don’t result in the loss of the vessel, such as:
Fractured Bones (including fingers, arms, and legs)
Slip, Trip and Falls
Falling Overboard (including drowning, hypothermia, and frostbite)
The compensation available to those injured on charter vessels depends on their function aboard the boat. Injured passengers may have a claim for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost income, and maybe even punitive damages under general maritime law. If the passenger is tragically killed, the area of the incident becomes important. If the passenger dies many miles offshore, his or her family’s claim may be under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). Otherwise, maritime law and potentially state law will apply to deaths nearer to shore.
Injured crewmembers may qualify for seaman status under the Jones Act. Such maritime employees are entitled to a safe place to work and can sue their employers for workplace negligence. Mariners may also have a claim for unseaworthiness when a component of the vessel or its crew is not fit for the voyage. Jones Act seaman are a protected class of worker. They can claim damages for lost earning and pain and suffering. The injured seaman may also be able to claim maintenance and cure, that is compensation for living expenses and medical care until they reach maximum medical improvement (MMI).
Admiralty Attorney Adam Deitz is a licensed captain with extensive experience operating passenger vessels. Whether you’re a passenger or crewmember, it’s a serious matter to be injured on a charter boat. Mariner Law, PLLC can help you investigate negligence and evaluate your potential claim. Contact (253) 600-2531 for a free consultation with a maritime attorney. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.