A recent news story of an near disaster that took place on the Chesapeake Bay has legal implications for admiralty law in Florida.

The passengers of the motor vessel Karen N were wearing life jackets and sitting on the sunken boat’s canopy when a commercial fisherman picked them up and brought them safety on the eastern shore, in Maryland. The captain had suffered a head injury and was transported to a hospital by helicopter. Several passengers had minor bruises, and all of them were taken to nearby hospitals after the incident, as a precaution, but each were released without serious injury.

How is this case affected by U.S. admiralty law?

The sinking occurred in 10-foot waters, west of Bloodsworth Island. The boat was similar to many charter and walk-on fishing and tour boats operating out of shore communities throughout the Tampa Bay area; a 40-foot, shallow-draft, water jet-powered vessel. The organization owning the boat originally purchased it as a research vessel, but also made money chartering it to school groups on science outings during the school year.

Authorities believe that the vessel sank after a collision with a submerged object. The boat had entered an area known to be off-limits to the public due to a risk of obstructions under the water. The U.S. Navy had used the local waters for live-ordinance training from 1942 to 1995. Items at the bottom of the bay may include some World War II-era M-4 Sherman tanks and unexploded bombs, the Navy has said. Striking a submerged object in that area could have had consequences even more dangerous than a sinking. Authorities noted that licensed charter boat owners and operators know the area is prohibited, but there are no signs or buoys to warn of any danger there.

Licensed or unlicensed, charter boat captains are responsible for obeying the laws of the seas and waterways

In this particular instance, the charter boat operator was licensed and the captain will not lose his license because of the error. Had any one of the passengers on board the ship been seriously injured or drowned because the operator ventured into prohibited waters, however, they would have had the right to pursue a claim for damages under U.S. admiralty law. Boat captains are held responsible for the safety of passengers and crew from the moment they step on board a vessel until the moment they disembark.

Not sure whether your injury case falls under admiralty law?

Licensure is not a criteria for whether the laws apply. Admiralty law is complex and requires an in-depth understanding of boat operator responsibilities.

If you suffered an injury because a charter boat operator failed to obey restrictions on Florida waterways or coastal waters, refer your case to an experienced admiralty law attorney at Barnes Trial Group in Tampa.