Tom Whitwell is a man known for making a list of 52 things he learns each year. It’s the analog version of the stream of tidbits social media gives you. I like the idea. Here are some salty things I’ve learned vaguely relating to the maritime law and which might give you some cocktail ammunition for your next gathering:

1. In maritime law, a yacht is often classified as a pleasure vessel, and owners must comply with international regulations such as the MARPOL Convention to prevent pollution from ships, ensuring the protection of the marine environment.

2. If you walk the docks at any big marina in the late afternoon, it’s pretty clear yachts are pumping effluent overboard instead of into their holding tanks. (Why don’t I ever hear about enforcement on this issue?)

3. In recent history, the Coast Guard reported 84% of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets.

4. Since 2008, Sea Tow has provided over 100,000 life jackets to boaters as part of their Life Jacket Loaner Program.

5. Approximately one in six New England residents own a boat.

6. Approximately one in ten Americans own a boat.

7. Length Overall (LOA) and Length on the Waterline (LWL) are two measurements for a boat, but other ways to measure a boat include Length Over Deck (LOD), Length Over Spars (LOS), Length Extreme (LE) and Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP).

8. Many marinas and shipyards apply a Length Extreme measurement to calculate your dockage charge.

9. There is a federal regulation (40 C.F.R. Section 229.3) detailing how to go about getting permission to dispose of your vessel in the ocean.

10. In recent history, the Coast Guard reported approximately 4,000 to 8,000 recreational boats sink each year.

11. 55 C.F.R. Section 224.103 creates a 500 yard ‘security zone’ around right whales.

12. Seagulls get a respectful distance to avoid stress under the Migratory Bird Act.

13. Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure will likely go into effect in December 2024 requiring more thorough documents descriptions in a party’s Privilege Log. (I’m including because this rule change will be helpful to us maritime plaintiff lawyers!)

14. Some yachts get the label “bad penny,” meaning something that’s unwanted but keeps appearing.

15. Foreign flagged yachts chartering in New England without government approvals (you know who you are!) can face fines of $15,000/passenger as well as seizure and forfeiture. (Why don’t I ever hear about enforcement on this issue?)

16. In my opinion, it wouldn’t take much effort for the CPB to identify foreign flagged yachts marketing charterers in New England waters that are “doing it dirty” with charter arrangements that don’t satisfy the law.

17. In recent history, the Coast Guard reported that kayaking incidents account for 15% of all reported boating incidents annually.

18. Iowa and Minnesota require non-motorized kayaks to be registered, which doesn’t appear to the case in New England waters.

19. Typically, a capacity plate on a boat will show the Maximum Weight Capacity (the total weight the boat can safely carry) and will show the Maximum Person Capacity.

20. A Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a 12-character code that every boat manufactured from 1972 onward is assigned. The first three characters refer to the manufacturer; the next five characters are the serial number for the hull; the ninth and tenth characters indicate the month and year of manufacture (with A being January, B being February, etc.) and the last two characters are the model year of the boat.

21. Sailors love to explain the difference between starboard and port; a halyard and a topping lift and the Genoa from the Code Zero, but could they tell you why their boat moves forward when the wind blows? When wind flows over a sail, it creates a pressure difference which creates lift that “pulls” the boat forward; throw a keel or centerboard into the mix and you’ve got yourself a sailboat that’ll take you places.

22. A sailboat can sail faster than the true wind speed especially if on a reach. How? As a sailboat moves forward it creates its own wind, which when combined with the true wind creates a stronger apparent wind. The sailboat’s shape and sails allow it to harness this apparent wind to sail faster than the true wind speed.

23. If your boat is less than about 66 feet, you typically don’t need to show an anchor light if anchored in a designated anchorage – but why wouldn’t you?

There are probably more and better facts; if you have any, share them and we’ll do this again sometime. Meanwhile, it’s summer. Those tributaries, coastal shallows and ocean waters are a shared commons, meaning be nice. And as the summer gets rolling, make the time to sail or boat or paddle knowing that this warm season is fleeting. 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, or visit his website at

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