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Beyond Captain Stubing: The real role of ship captains

We have all seen the romanticized version of jocular and loving sea captains on TV and in movies. But the job is anything but easy.

When does a captain have authority?        

Anytime the ship is in operation the captain is in charge. A ship captain is obligated to act ethically, with prudence, and to make decisions that are morally sound.

What are a captain’s duties?

The captain has a plethora of responsibilities that can include:

  • All crew and payroll
  • Accounting and inventories
  • Customs compliance
  • Immigration compliance
  • All certificates and documentation for the vessel
  • The ship’s security plan
  • Understanding and abiding by the terms set forth in the Jones Act

What is the Jones Act?

This federal statute was created with workers on merchant vessels in mind. This act pertains to all workers on ships.  The Jones Act protects works and their families in instances when a worker is injured or killed while working onboard.  The ramifications of the Jones Act means that if you as a worker get sick or are seriously injured due to negligence or poor working conditions then you have federally mandated recourse. You can pursue financial compensation from the owner of the ship or the company that you work for.  Even if your injury happened while docked or in another country, the Jones Act still protects you.

Which rules must a captain abide by?

All ships in navigable waters are subject to Maritime Rules which include: 

  • Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations
  •  Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW)
  • International Safety Management (ISM) rules
  • The Rule of the Sea which means that the captain, officers and crew do not abandon the ship until all passengers and crew are accounted for and everything possible to save lives has been done, especially on the high seas

 What are the high seas?

Also known as international waters the high seas are the area 12 nautical miles from the low water or baseline of a coastal state. This includes lakes in other countries.


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