By John K. Fulweiler, Esq.

I was in San Diego last week. A quick jaunt. Out and back in forty-eight hours. As I’m in a committed relationship with the Atlantic, I scowled at the Pacific and counted the time to boarding. Lonely travel has you chewing on thoughts until there’s just the gristle: an elastin mouthful of issues reduced to the basics. I like the occasional solo jaunt for that reason. I return with new clarity.

I’ve spent twenty or so years as a maritime lawyer and while my practice is largely about helping those with maritime injury and death claims, I’ve encountered hundreds of maritime legal issues. We always have a healthy number of non-injury maritime files in the office. Collision, salvage, vessel ownership disputes, marine insurance coverage, manufacturing defects and hull damage are a sample mix of the files crowding my feet. In this way, let me share some general information about some common maritime questions (and some uncommon ones, too!) and, of course, always talk to your own admiralty attorney to understand your rights.

I’m sometimes asked what’s necessary for a vessel to be considered to have been ‘built’ in the United States. For documentation purposes, my understanding is that the Coast Guard treats a vessel as built here if all of the major components of its hull and superstructure were fabricated and assembled in the United States. You might pull more on this thread by referring to 46 C.F.R. Part 67 and by speaking to your local marine documentation specialist. (These marine documentation specialists may not be maritime lawyers, but they know a lot (far more than most maritime attorneys in my experience) about documentation, registration, foreign chartering permit issues, etc.)

Is a seaplane a vessel? My understanding is that a seaplane is excluded from the statutory definition of a vessel. However, a seaplane when operating on the water must observe the Rules of the Road and display lighting in accord with a vessel of its size.

My wife’s name is May, and I was thinking about naming our sailboat MAY’S – DAY. Would that be okay? If your vessel is documented, you might have a problem. My memory is that a documented vessel’s name must be composed of letters of the Latin alphabet and can’t exceed thirty-three characters. Plus, and this is where you hit shoal water, the name can’t be identical, actually or phonetically, to any word or words used to solicit assistance at sea. Go ahead and check with your maritime lawyer.

Are marine insurance policies different from auto policies? Yes. Marine policies contain, among other things, unique language, unique exclusions, and warranties imposing obligations on the vessel owner. Plus, sometimes what’s maybe marketed as something that sounds like your auto policy is really an indemnity agreement, meaning the policy will, pursuant to its contractual terms, reimburse you for what monies you pay out. These policies are sometimes called pay-to-be-paid policies and first understanding that fact following a loss can have you calling your insurance pals “Lily-livered bandicoots”…in a nod to Captain Haddock.

When your marine insurer declines your claim, you may wish to pursue litigation against your insurer seeking to compel them to provide coverage. However, in most instances, any such lawsuit must be brought within a specific (and usually fairly short) period of time. Review your insurance policy with your admiralty attorney to determine what the policy states in connection with suing the insurer. Something else, too: Consider first sitting down with your admiralty attorney before writing chapter and verse in response to your insurer declining your claim. You likely possess many talents, but if you’re not a lawyer with experience in this area, these Columbo-type letters where you’ve explained and photographed and opined may only reinforce the insurer’s position.

I don’t watch much television, but sometimes I’ll hunt up an Anthony Bourdain episode. Scotch in hand and my child’s school lunch chips in the other, I enjoy his reflections and observations. He’d be corny and overly something at times, but he wasn’t always pandering to the camera. There’s not a lot of that these days. I was saddened to see his demons win. Maybe a whole lot of lonely travel is like being offshore in rough weather, where the staccato beat of sea, wind and spray sometimes merges into a lulling melody stealing focus and will. You can’t let that happen. Blink it away, feel the sting of saltwater. Live.

This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon, but feel free to use any of the maritime expressions I’ve shared in this column! Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.

Underway and making way.

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 john@saltwaterlaw.com, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.