Call me Captain McNoodle. Some weeks back John asked I write this column because he’d be in trial. I said no problem ‘cause John’s a good guy alright. Anyways, I don’t have his spit and polish, but I’m better with the boats and so John thought me writing down how I see boating law would be good. I’m not Dickens so much, but John said questions/answers would work and he said he’d put his comments (italicized) in from his phone during the trial; so here goes:
Boat owners are worried about having a stranger take their boat from, say, Newport to Lauderdale. They ask me, “How do I find a good delivery captain?” Easy answer: Call me! I mean, look, you have insurance, right? I’ll do my best to take care of your boat, and most boats I’ve delivered arrive no problem. Sure, I got one hung up on a New Jersey beach, and I had that air-draft issue with a bridge down in Morehead, but the thing is most times it works great and these accidents don’t haunt me ‘cause they’re not recorded in a database anywhere. Things happen. With me there’s no paperwork is how I am because all I need is your handshake (or fist-bump if you’re a scaredy cat!). A handshake is good as anything written. But seriously, if I’m you, I’m shopping the best price ‘cause most delivery guys just want the fun of driving boats! Not great advice. Start with your insurer and make sure you understand your coverages and what’s involved in hiring a delivery captain. There are other ways to research a delivery captain’s background, including databases. Insist on a written contract, references and you know what? Call your admiralty attorney.
We’re in a race, right? And we’re squaring up with another boat and I’m telling the skipper, “Hold your course ‘cause we’re racing and the Rules of the Road go overboard when it’s game on, you know?” So people ask me; they say, “Captain McNoodle, you race hard and ignore the Rules of the Road. Is that legal if something happens?” How I answer is, “First, you got insurance, right? Second, we’re not in the paddock, okay.” The owner comes down from the boardroom wanting a win and I’m going to get it for him is my answer. Ugg. To the extent Captain McNoodle suggests the Rules of the Road don’t apply during a sailing race, he’s wrong. If you ignore the Rules of the Road, particularly Rule 8 about the overriding obligation to avoid a collision, and something bad happens, you’ll be on your way to Destination-F’d. Is my short answer.
So with a refit, people ask, “How do I make sure you as the supervisor on the project will pay all the vendors from the money we give you?” So this is like asking me do I balance my checkbook, right? Yeah, I do. I also keep a log when I’m sailing. I’m telling you I’ll pay them and if that’s not good enough, I’ve got ten other owners wanting me. Refits usually involve a lot of money. Captain McNoodle’s assurances are likely not sufficient for a prudent vessel owner. While a vendor hired by Captain McNoodle on a refit doesn’t usually possess a maritime lien, the vendor can still sue the owner personally. A refit should be set up like any contracting job with set asides, lien releases, etc.
“What’s the Jones Act?” owners ask and, “Will I have to pay Jones Act benefits if someone working aboard gets hurt?” First, I don’t get hurt. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m not going to be getting hurt and suing anyone. So it’s not really a worry with me. You sweating the Jones Act is a waste because these random people we hire to work aboard aren’t entitled to squat. They get their daily pay, but they’re not crew, you know what I’m saying? They’re not professionals like I am. Okay, this is so wrong. Captain McNoodle is unaware of the law on this issue and the successes in our law office proving crew status. When someone satisfies crew status, labeling them as “day workers” doesn’t change their status and entitlement to seaman’s remedies. This is complicated stuff; talk to your admiralty attorney and don’t listen to Captain McNoodle.
Here’s another. We found this nice inflatable drifting in the Stream. The Coasties are all over us to turn it over, but nope it’s mine because the salvage law. The maritime law says it is. And you should remember that nugget. It’s my holiday gift to you, that is. Okay, okay. This is not how the salvage law works. Abandonment under the maritime law is very tough to prove. Ownership of the inflatable doesn’t usually pass to the finder. Again, Captain McNoodle is wrong.
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.
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.