What makes a vessel unseaworthy?

Under maritime law, injured seamen can bring claims against the vessel owner for negligence or unseaworthiness of the vessel. While negligence seems pretty straight forward, factors that make a vessel unseaworthy can be a little more confusing for those who are unfamiliar with maritime law. A vessel owner owes a legal duty to provide a seaworthy vessel and when they fail to do so, they can be held liable for any injuries that occurred. If you have been injured on a vessel, you may be entitled to compensation if unseaworthiness was involved.


To understand what constitutes an unseaworthy vessel, it is important to understand what makes a vessel seaworthy in the first place. A seaworthy vessel is one that:

  • Is reasonably fit for its intended use
  • Provides a safe place to work and live
  • Has the appropriate safety gear and equipment
  • Includes safe recreation facilities
  • Has a competent crew

So, what makes a vessel unseaworthy? An unseaworthy vessel does not necessary mean that is in danger of sinking. Unseaworthiness can be caused by any of the following:

  • Faulty equipment
  • Defective machinery
  • Crew is too small
  • Incompetent crew
  • Dangerous condition, such as oil, grease or rust
  • Poorly maintained vessel
  • Violent tendencies of a crew member

Claims of unseaworthiness are different than negligence claims in that they are usually brought against the vessel owner, not the employer. However, in some cases the vessel owner is the employer. An unseaworthiness claim can bring the vessel owner into a lawsuit as an additional source of recovery for the injured seaman. Compensation in an unseaworthiness case can include past lost income (wages lost from the time of the injury to the time of trial), future lost income, past and future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, mental anguish and disfigurement.

There is a deadline as to when you can file an unseaworthiness claim against the vessel owner, which is three years from the date of the injury. However, if you need to take a different route with your lawsuit, the deadline can be as short as one year from the date of the injury. It is crucial that you contact an experienced maritime attorney immediately following your injury to discuss your legal options. Our law firm has extensive experience in representing unseaworthiness lawsuits and can help you. Contact our office 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The consultation is free and confidential.