Who doesn’t love dining and socializing on the water? The waterfront of United States cities great and small are often hosts to these beautiful and interesting vessels that offer food, drinks, sightseeing, dancing, and spending time with friends and family. These boats are especially popular for holidays—like the 4th of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day—as well as special occasions such as anniversaries and birthdays. After the sun sets, the boats may further host nightlife with alcohol and dancing—sometimes referred to as “Booze Cruises”.
Dinner boats and party boats can vary widely in size—sometimes well over 100 feet in length. They can be open deck or closed deck and may even be several stories tall. When not serving dinner or hosting nightlife, these busy passenger vessels may also serve a sightseeing function by giving regularly scheduled tours of popular vacation destinations and fieldtrips.
These types of boats, known as small passenger vessels, are special.
Passengers receive a safety briefing before every voyage
The vessels are usually inspected annually by the United States Coast Guard
The Coast Guard determines minimum crewing requirements and maximum passenger count
Vessel crewmembers are expected to be trained in CPR, first aid, man overboard procedures, firefighting, and flood control
Deckhands and licensed masters are also randomly drug tested
The vessels themselves must be constructed to specific safety standards
Certain safety equipment for firefighting, lifejackets, and bilging must be in place at all times
Boats are usually hauled out of the water once every five years—if not more often—for a hull and through-hull inspection
Even with all these measures in place, small passenger vessels can still become unsafe and cause injury to passengers or crew. Improper maintenance (both repairs and preventative maintenance), inadequate training, negligent navigation, lack of safety equipment, and failure to enforce safety rules can result in:
Passengers or crewmembers going overboard
Collisions or hard landings
Slip, trip and fall accidents
Overserving and alcohol-related issues
Though everyone comes to a party boat or dinner cruise to have a good time, the opposite can occur due to the negligence of others. Common injuries aboard small passenger vessels may include:
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Cuts and Lacerations
Any one of these injuries could change the victim’s life forever. Even worse, some small passenger vessel casualties result in wrongful deaths. Recent examples have made national headlines such as:
The Missouri Duck Boat Sinking in July 2018,which resulted in 17 deaths
Dive Boat CONCEPTION Fire in September 2019,which resulted in 34 deaths
In each of these cases the passenger vessel was a total loss. Despite the harrowing fatality numbers, the vessel owners each sought to limit their liability. This is a complicated concept of maritime law that requires the seasoned hand of an experienced admiralty lawyer.
Mariner Law, PLLC serves victims of small passenger vessel accidents all over the country. Specifically, the firm is active in these areas and bodies of water:
Puget Sound, Washington
San Juan Islands, Washington
Lake Union, Washington
Duwamish River, Washington
Columbia River, Washington and Oregon
Willamette River, Oregon
Snake River, Oregon
Rogue River, Oregon
Hudson River, New York
East River, New York
New York Harbor
Long Island Sound
New Haven, Connecticut
New London, Connecticut
Maritime Attorney Adam Deitz has been a licensed master of small passenger vessels for over a decade. That means he has extensive experience in operating dinner boats, tour boats, and party boats in the southeast, northeast, and pacific northwest areas of the U.S.
The two most common types of injury claimants aboard small passenger vessels are passengers and crewmembers. Vessel owners and operators owe to passengers a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances. Breaching that duty can expose the owner or operator to liability for negligence. Negligence under maritime law is similar to negligence causes of action under state law; however, understanding uniform maritime law throughout the country and familiarity with vessels are both important areas of knowledge needed for an admiralty attorney to obtain maximum compensation for injured clients. That compensation may include money damages for wage loss, permanent disability, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. In truly egregious willful and wanton negligence situations, punitive damages may also be available.
Vessel crewmembers, known as seaman, are a protected class of workers under federal law and ancient maritime law. Mariners contributing to the function of a vessel may qualify for seaman status under the Jones Act. Such a seaman can sue his or her maritime employer for negligence and seek damages for lost income, lost earning capacity, and pain and suffering. Similar damages may be available to commercial seafarers under the doctrine of unseaworthiness. That legal scheme requires the vessel, its appurtenances, and the crew to be fit for their intended purpose.
Finally, seamen are often entitled to maintenance and cure after being injured on small passenger vessels. Maintenance and cure are two different benefits that are usually tied together. Maintenance is a periodic stipend to help an inured mariner pay the bills during recovery. Cure covers the medical bills associated with treatment of a shipboard injury or illness. Both benefits are discontinued when the mariner recovers to the point on maximum medical improvement (a.k.a. maximum medical cure).
Dinner boats are meant to be fun—and most of the time they are. But if your sightseeing cruise, dinner cruise, booze cruise, or party cruise goes wrong and you suffer injury, it important to contact an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible. Claims against these companies can be subject to shortened injury reporting periods and time bars, as well as obscure jurisdictional requirements. Don’t guess at your rights under maritime law. Consultation with a Mariner Law, PLLC Jones Act lawyer is free and there is no obligation. Call today: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.