A Quick Guide to Maritime Laws and Regulations

Understanding the law and jurisdiction is typically a bit complicated. However, when someone is injured or a crime happens while on a cruise ship, cargo ship, or other boat that’s out to sea, who has jurisdiction? The company that owns the vessel? The country that the vessel is closest to? 

Maritime laws and regulations are complicated legal standards that take an expert to understand, but we hope to shed a little light on how it all works. Read on to learn more about how behavior is governed when out at sea. 

What Is Maritime Law? 

Maritime law governs individuals and organizations that conduct business in international waters. This could be a private business, shipping, or even criminal offenses that occur in open water. 

Each country that has coastline has national borders that extend into the ocean to a certain distance, but beyond that, the waters are open and no country has sovereignty over them. 

Instead, there are international laws and regulations, called maritime law or admiralty law, that govern actions that happen on open water. Our maritime laws evolved from Roman times when regulations were created to govern shipping on the Mediterranean Sea. 

Maritime Laws and Regulations

Maritime law is typically separate from the criminal and civil courts of most developed countries. Instead, the maritime laws and regulations are stipulated by global organizations, such as the United Nations (UN). The UN has a specialized agency, called the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The IMO is tasked with creating regulations to make international shipping safe and secure. They also create regulations to prevent marine pollution and oversee all aspects of worldwide shipping. Maritime law also governs insurance claims that are related to ships and cargo, and civil matters between seamen and women, passengers, and ship owners, as well as instances of piracy

The IMO keeps these up to date and develops new agreements and conventions when appropriate. There are many different conventions that regulate the seas, including: 

  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
  • International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers
  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 
  • Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea
  • Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic

Each country that is a member of the IMO is responsible for implementing the IMO conventions for any ships registered to their country.  

What to Do if You Are Hurt at Sea 

If you get hurt at sea, you should do many of the same things that you would do if you are hurt on land, including: 

1. Report the accident

Maritime law requires you to report it within seven days. Notify your supervisor or captain about the injury within the time frame or you risk questions about the cause and nature of the injury. 

2. Seek medical attention 

You have the right to choose your own doctor, even if your employer tries to dictate which provider you see.

3. Follow the doctor’s orders 

Be sure to follow any of the directions given to you by your doctor, don’t skip follow-up appointments, and keep documentation of everything.

4. Don’t speak to the insurance company

You are not obligated to speak to the insurance company if you are hurt at sea. 

5. Consult an attorney

Let an attorney handle the communication with the insurance company for you. This offshore injury lawyer can help get you what you deserve.

Know Your Rights

If you spend any time at sea, whether that’s working or for pleasure, having a general understanding of maritime laws and regulations is helpful, especially if you are injured. Knowledge will help you protect yourself. 

If you found this information useful, be sure to explore some of our other articles.




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