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How do admiralty and maritime law govern the waters?

As far as the open waters go, it may seem to some that the waters are free reign, a kind of last frontier where anything goes. However, the open ocean and waters have been governed by one body of government or another for hundreds of years. With an ever-globalizing world that seems to be shrinking by the minute, it matters who has jurisdiction over a boating accident in Louisiana or off its coast.

Admiralty law, also known as maritime law, is a combination of U.S. and international law that covers all contracts, torts, injuries or offenses that take place on navigable waters. Admiralty law used to only cover oceanic law in the past but it has been expanded to include any public body of water, including lakes and rivers.

These laws mostly cover incidences such as interactions between two or more ships, the ship captain's responsibilities to the crew and passengers and the rights of crew members. When there is a combination of international and domestic law the responsibilities of ships and crews are not always clear since the laws can be contradictory to each other at times.

When it comes to jurisdiction, or the ability to govern, it matters what legislative bodies have a say to resolve conflict between parties on the water. Since Louisiana is a state that has significant coastline on the ocean and on the Mississippi River, there are many accidents or incidences that occur within state jurisdiction that can be considered subject to Louisiana maritime law. When boating accidents occur, a negligent party may be held accountable for damages caused to an innocent party.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a boating accident, especially an incident caused by negligence, it is important to understand there is a specific set of laws and regulations governing that incident. Even if a lake is located within a specific area, what happens on it may still be subject to admiralty law.

Source: FindLaw, "What is admiralty law?" Accessed Sept. 21, 2015

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