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MARITIME LAW

Now that the boating season is in full swing after Memorial Day NAUTICAL LOG is starting a series on Maritime Law. Many seafarers, most particularly recreational boaters, do not actually have knowledge of maritime law. Learning can start out with a check from USCG or CBP and from there, unfortunately, can lead to quite some difficulties. As you read this series of Posts you may decide to talk with your Legal Counsel and discuss what you need to know pertaining to your vessel.
INFORMATIONAL ONLY NOT LEGAL ADVICE

Maritime Law is that branch of Law relating to commerce and navigation on the High Seas and other Navigable Waters. Specifically the term refers to the body of customs, legislation, international treaties and court decisions pertaining to ownership and operation of vessels, transportation of passengers and cargo on them, the rights and obligations of their crews while in transit.
Some history as to the origins of maritime law which goes back to antiquity and the trading of goods by water transportation. Because no country has jurisdiction over the seas it has been necessary for nations to reach agreements regarding ways of dealing with ships, crews and cargo's when disputes arise. The earliest agreements were probably based on a body of ancient customs that had developed as practical solutions to common problems. Many of these customs became part of Roman Civil Law. So from the beginning maritime law has been international in scope.
After the fall of the Roman Empire maritime commerce was disrupted for about 500 years. When maritime activity was resumed in the Middle Ages various disputes arose and laws were formulated to deal with them. Gradually the laws of the sea were compiled. Among the best known collections of early maritime law are the Laws of Oleron developed in France and the Black Book of Admiralty. This latter was an English compilation prepared during the 14th. and 15th. Century's CE. Many countries set up special courts to administer maritime law. In England these courts are known as Admiralty Court.
In the United States provisions in the U.S. Constitution assigned maritime law to the Federal Courts. These Courts have jurisdiction over maritime contracts, injuries, offenses and torts. Maritime causes are deemed to be those directly affecting commerce on navigable waters that form a continuous highway to foreign countries. In any dispute the fact that commerce is practised only on waters within a single State does not affect the jurisdiction of the Federal Courts. Many aspects of U.S. maritime law are now governed by U.S. Federal Statutes and thus are no longer dependent upon the Constitutional power of Congress to regulate commerce.
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