By John K. Fulweiler
In the boating business, getting called a hack is the worst. On the other hand, having a few ‘hacks’ in the bib of your foul weather gear…well, that’s just good seamanship.
Any sailor worth their salt knows the ‘hacks’ I’m talking about, be it subbing a halyard for a busted stay or worrying the passage of an amidships line first when landing on a dock’s weather side. I’m sure you’ve probably got your own hacks for running in rough weather or hanging on a hook in an anchorage prone to wind shifts, but maybe you’re lacking in maritime law hacks. And that’s why I'm here. As we welcome 2016 aboard (stiff legged and rheumy eyed from its blowout), let’s consider a few maritime law hacks worthy of remembrance.
Boat ownership is chock-a-block full of fine print, whether buried in the instructions for the new desalinator or riding quietly at the bottom of the marina contract. And like the growler sitting patiently beneath a dark Maine bay you spotted in time ‘cause you understood what that pimple of water was broadcasting, you need to understand how to tackle such jargon. My maritime law hack is to start at the bottom or back of the contract and work forward. That is, the goblins that pen this stuff tend to stick the business end of the words and phrasing (the nasty stuff) toward the end, and if you start there you’ll likely at least see some of the scary stuff out of the gate.
The tread worn saying is if you don’t run aground occasionally, you’re not doing it right. And if you go big, you might get yourself aground in a way that requires the assistance of another vessel or commercial salvor. My maritime law hack in this instance is two for the price of one. First, you almost never have to agree to allow a salvor to assist you. That is, a vessel owner can decline salvage services no matter how persuasive the salvor may be! Second, if you want assistance, try negotiating a towage rate instead of salvage. And bonus, if the would-be rescuer agrees to assist based on the price of a tow, consider calling the local Coast Guard station and advising them the agreement is for towage at such and such a rate and ask them to write it down. (If a dispute arises, you may likely be able to retrieve the Coast Guard records using a Freedom of Information Act request, thereby bolstering your position.)
On the curl of the salvage wave, a related hack is knowing what coverage your insurance policy provides for towing and salvage services. While every circumstance will be different, sometimes policy coverages are pretty good, meaning you can consider not paying for a premium towing membership service. (And there’s a hack in and of itself: always have on-the-water towing coverage through a membership or your insurance because those red or yellow towboats don’t come cheap and whatever budget you had for sails will be wiped out with one early season tow!)
When you’re next listening to that race committee member who’s relishing his or her provisional moment of power, remember what I’d preached some issues past. In certain circumstances, a race committee’s factual findings may be dispositive in any downwind civil litigation that arises. My hack in this instance is that if it’s a serious racecourse encounter with injuries and/or property damage, try and take a beat before plunging head first into a committee hearing. Talk to your admiralty attorney, put down the cookies and tea you’re juggling from the club’s post-race soirée and remember the possible consequences.
There are other maritime legal hacks, but I’m going to condense them into the following three items: keep a decent detailed log, show the proper day shapes and navigational lights, and before you move your boat (or have it moved) south for the winter or what have you, make sure your insurance policy covers this endeavor! (In 2015, my office was down by the bow with these types of circumstances where the innocent insured simply assumed they had coverage when they didn’t.)
Finally, forgive me for tacking around and heading off in another direction, but it’s one that’ll be a hit if you’ve got a rambling spirit or a toothy child full of adventurous thoughts. There’s a fellow I don’t personally know but who seems to write as well as he can sail. He’s clocking his way around the world by himself aboard a Class40 in chase of a world record. His name is Joe Harris and his sailboat is the s/v GryphonSolo2. Many of you may be following Joe, but if you’re not, he’s a good read when the night is dark and the house is quiet and you want to sail a far flung sea. I wish him luck. (gryphonsolo2.com)
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.
Underway and making way.
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a licensed captain and a Proctor-In-Admiralty. His legal practice is devoted to maritime law and he represents individuals and marine businesses throughout the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. He does not represent insurance companies. He may be reached anytime at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293), or, at his Newport, Rhode Island desk at 401-667-0977 or firstname.lastname@example.org.