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How does the law define a vessel in navigation?

On Behalf of | May 25, 2021 | Admiralty & Maritime Defense

The United States Congress passed the Jones Act to deal with issues that come up on navigable waters such as injuries seamen suffer while on a vessel. To proceed with a personal injury claim under the Jones Act, the circumstances must fulfill certain criteria such as whether the vessel was in navigation and in navigable waters.

According to FindLaw, there are ways to tell if a vessel is likely to qualify under the Jones Act as being in navigation. The general rule is that a vessel must act as a commerce instrument and transportation on navigable waters. At times the question of whether a vessel is actually in navigation has been the subject of different court contests.

Vessels under repair

Some sea vessels have to undergo repairs before they can return to active service, so it would seem that these vessels should not qualify to be in navigation. According to various court decisions, it depends on the extent of the repairs needed. Some courts have deemed a vessel in navigation if it just undergoes minor repairs or routine maintenance.

However, a ruling from the Ninth Court in the 1992 decision McKinley v. All-Alaskan Seafoods, Inc. determined that a vessel requiring major renovations did not qualify to be in navigation. Because of its inoperable state due to its renovation, the vessel’s operators could not use the vessel for its intended purpose.

Vessels on navigable waters

The location of the vessel during an injury or an accident will also be a factor. Some bodies of water do not qualify as navigable waters. Court tests have held that a navigable body of water that qualifies for federal admiralty jurisdiction must form a highway that can permit and sustain interstate or foreign commerce. The body of water must accomplish this feat by itself or by linking to other waterways.

These provisions mean that certain bodies of water, such as ones that do not flow from one state to another, will not qualify for jurisdiction under the Jones Act. Factors such as these may affect whether an injured person can pursue a claim using this particular law.