Tour boats are an integral part of the travel and tourism industry. They are a staple of the American family vacation and exist in almost every waterfront metropolitan area on the country. Passengers buy tickets for tour boats that usually operate on a circuit. The vessels may give guided tours of areas of historical and present-day interest. Passengers board at a certain time, the vessel leaves at a certain time, and the tour is pre-determined length. Then repeat. That’s a tour boat operation.
Tour boats come in all shapes and sizes from pontoons, to yachts, to vessels large enough for offshore operations. Many tour boats are over 100 feet long and can carry hundreds of passengers at a time. They also operate on all kinds of waters, such as rivers, lakes, canals, harbors, bays, and sounds. The key to tour boats is sightseeing. Passengers expect a place to sit with views of the surrounding area. Perhaps a cold beverage and some fun facts too.
Tour boats go by another, more technical name: small passenger vessels. Small passenger vessels are special under U.S. law and maritime regulations.
There is a safety briefing for passengers at the beginning of each cruise
The vessels are subject to annual inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard
There are minimum crewing requirements and maximum passenger counts determined by the vessel builders and the Coast Guard
Vessel crewmembers must have specific knowledge and skills, such as CPR, first aid, man overboard, firefighting, and bilging
The captain must be licensed by the Coast Guard after demonstrating sufficient experience
Deckhands and licensed masters are subject to random drug testing
The Coast Guard specifies requirements for safety equipment like fire pumps, life jackets, and bilge pumps
The Coast guard expects to inspect the hull of the vessels while they are out of the water every few years to check for integrity issues
Despite the heightened scrutiny of tour boats, they can still be rendered unsafe due to negligence. It is an all too often occurrence that passengers or crewmembers suffer injury on small passenger vessels. These injuries are usually avoidable losses as the result of bad maintenance, failure to make repairs, failure to implement preventative maintenance, inadequate training, poor navigational skills, inadequate safety equipment, dim lighting, failure to warn of hazards, and failure to enforce rules.
Safety issues aboard a tour boat can manifest instantly or slowly over time. The resulting accidents may include:
Collisions with other vessels
Slip, trip and fall accidents
Overserving and alcohol-related issues
Tour boats across the United States carry millions of passengers every year. With all the hazards of maritime transportation confounded by negligent operations, a tour boat cruise can result in injuries such as:
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Cuts and Lacerations
Any one of these injuries can be life-altering if not life-ending. Recent examples of tour boat tragedies demonstrate that the industry’s fun-loving and economy boosting activities also have a dark side. Fires and floods can destroy or sink passenger vessels. This can result in unspeakable loss of life and permanent injuries all at once.
The Missouri Duck Boat Sinking of July 2018 (17 deaths)
D/V CONCEPTION Fire of September 2019 (34 deaths)
Safety aboard passenger boats, like tour boats, is serious. Maritime law protects mariners and may provide compensation to passengers who are hurt aboard passenger vessels.
Mariner Law, PLLC knows the tour boat industry. In fact, Attorney Adam Deitz is a licensed master of passenger vessels and has served as captain on tour boats from coast to coast (and in between). The firm is available to work with tour boat injury victims all over the country with offices near the following areas (served by tour boats):
Puget Sound, WA
San Juan Islands, WA
Lake Union, WA
Lake Washington, WA
Duwamish River, WA
Columbia River, WA and OR
Willamette River, OR
Snake River, OR
Rogue River, OR
Hudson River, NY
East River, NY
New York Harbor, NY
Long Island Sound, NY and CT
New Haven, CT
New London, CT
Tour boats are different from many other commercial vessels because of their cargo. Tour boats carry people, not goods. That means that shipboard safety is more complex. Much more of the vessel is subject to foot traffic and the passengers are not trained/experienced with vessel operations. However, members of the crew serving passengers and enabling tours are also entitled to a safe place to work. This interesting mix of professional mariners and tourist passengers creates special legal issues under maritime law.
For example, vessel owners, operators, and crew owe tour boat passengers a duty to act with reasonable care. A breach of that duty may expose the vessel owner to liability for negligence under maritime law. Understanding negligence on passenger vessels can be tricky. It requires a good understanding of admiralty law, navigational rules, marine environmental hazards, and the small passenger vessel industry. A good maritime lawyer can help maritime negligence claimants build a case for money damages, such as wage loss, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and disability. If an injury resulted from willful or wanton negligence, punitive damages may also be available.
Tour boat crewmembers, known as Jones Act seamen, are protected under federal law and maritime common law. A seaman injured on the job can sue his or her maritime employer for negligence and seek damages for lost income as well as pain and suffering. Money damages may be available to injured seafarers under the ancient maritime doctrine of unseaworthiness. That legal scheme requires the boat, its equipment, and its crew to be fit for the work.
Finally, an injured seaman may be entitled to maintenance and cure after an injury in service of a tour boat. Maintenance and cure are two maritime worker benefits that work in tandem. Maintenance is a periodic payment to the injured mariner to help with bills during recovery. Cure pays for medical bills resulting from treatment of an on-the-job injury or illness.
Families trust tour boat owners and operators to create memories that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, passengers sometimes get much worse than what they bargained for. Tour boat accidents happen every year. They can be complex catastrophic losses, individual injuries, and anything in between. Regardless, tour boat accidents and injuries require the eye of a salty admiralty lawyer—and time may be an important factor. Claims against tour boat companies can be subject to shortened injury reporting periods. Time bars for these cases may be dramatically shorter than expected and subject to obscure jurisdictional requirements. Don’t risk your potential claim. Call Mariner Law, PLLC for a free consultation with a Jones Act lawyer: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.