What is Admiralty Law?

Admiralty law, which is also known as maritime law, regulates maritime activities, as well as the relationship between private entities that operate vessels on the sea. This body of law handles issues relating to maritime, such as maritime commerce, navigation, shipping, sailors and the transportation of passengers and goods by the ocean. It also governs various commercial activities, including land based, that are considered to be maritime related.

This law is different from the Law of the Sea, which is public international law that deals with navigational rights, mineral rights, jurisdiction and international law governing relationships between countries.

Admiralty law was adopted by the United States after admiralty cases began to arise following the establishment of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Numerous United States attorneys who were prominent during the American Revolution were admiralty lawyers, including Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.

Admiralty law includes such features as maintenance and cure, which is compensation for injured seamen. Maintenance refers to basic living expenses, while cure refers to medical care. A seaman who has sustained a maritime injury can also pursue compensation based on the doctrine of unseaworthiness or the Jones Act.

In addition, the law allows injured passengers to pursue a lawsuit against the ship owner for any injuries incurred due to negligence. Based on admiralty law, the ship owner owes a duty of reasonable care to passengers.