By John K. Fulweiler

Around the boatyard this time of year, there’s an obvious loss of optimism.  Scrubbing the summer’s growth off the dinghy, lugging lines and stuffing sails into the car’s boot somehow can’t beat a spring day of boat chores. I can’t do much about this truism, but I can offer several random maritime legal issues to mull as you malinger over whether or not to pay to soda blast the hull.

Maybe you think you don’t speak French, but if you’re in the wheelhouse you’re required to sound – at least in one instance – like a Parisian! The word “SECURITE” used as a safety signal prior to transmitting a safety message about your navigation is, the regulations tell us, supposed to be “pronounced as in French.” Plus, that safety signal and its accompanying message “must be sent on one of the international distress frequencies.” Have you or someone you know been content with making such “SECURITE” calls on a working frequency? You can find a copy of this regulation in the Telecommunications chapter of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Sometimes seasoned mariners and marine industry professionals let the concept of maritime liens get loose. In the face of a dispute, I’ll hear people say, “Well, I guess we could put a lien on the boat.” That’s not how it works! Maritime lien issues get complicated quickly so always speak to your admiralty lawyer, but understand that maritime liens typically arise at the time the service is provided or the goods delivered.  Unlike the auto lender or bank holding your home mortgage who have to go through a process to establish their lien, your maritime lien generally springs to life on its own.  Sure, you can file a “Notice of Claim of Lien” on a vessel’s abstract of title, but that doesn’t create a lien.

As for guns, I’m a gun control advocate even though I grew up around and own guns.  My grandparents’ place (an admittedly remote farm) was lousy with them; rifles stacked in the kitchen corner, pistol tacked under the kitchen counter, massive gun rack in the living room and uncles that’d stroll in and place their pistols atop a pantry shelf. Statistically speaking, we kids were a decent sample size when it comes to gun accident issues, yet we all operated under the fear of The Almighty lest we touch any of the armament. Even in our teens, we pretty much respected that order partly because there was a lot of supervised firing time.

My point is I’ve got standing to make a few comments about rifles and handguns.  Comment one is the maritime law is sort of curious about arming your vessel.  Comment two (and the one I’ll just jettison right now so some of you can peel off and head in another direction), the cure for the policing in this country is back to the ol’ thirty-eight special. You want a fancy handheld powerhouse with a German sounding name and fourteen rounds, sign up for the military. I say my tax dollars hired a cop with good people skills, not a Ranger.

On the maritime law front, we could spend a lot of time unfolding all the legal issues involved in guns aboard vessels, and I’ll do so in a future article. I want to start by mentioning a relatively new law with the unassuming title “Use of Force Against Piracy.” (Use a search engine of your choice to search 46 USC 8107 and you can read the law’s text yourself.) While some laws provide rights, this law provides protection.  That is, and in broad speak, this law states if you cause an injury or death to someone while you’re resisting an act of piracy, you’re not responsible in monetary damages.  Importantly though, your actions have to be in accord with certain use of force standards in order to obtain the benefit of the law’s protection and, as always, speak to your admiralty lawyer so you properly understand this law.

I’m interested in your thoughts on the gun issue. Do you carry a gun aboard your vessel? What concerns or problems do you have with guns aboard vessels? What questions do you have about mixing guns and seawater? Let me know and I can tailor an upcoming article to try and address the broad contours of this issue.

In the meantime, don’t get blue seeing your vessel on the hard. They’re projects to be done and the promise of voyages yet unmade.

Underway and making way.

John FulweilerJohn 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 visit his website at