Maritime Law Overview
Seaman's Information Regarding Maritime Injury
While on the water, people find themselves in situations that could end in accident or injury.
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There are more than 500 ferries that operate in the United States. Ferries carry passengers, often over short distances. They operate on regular schedules and can, for example, transport people between an island and the mainland or be a form of commuting in urban areas near a waterway. In the United States, ferries carry more passengers annually than Amtrak or the cruise line industry. They are an important part of the transportation system of this country.
Coast Guard Oversight
The responsibility for overseeing the safety of these important vehicles rests with the United States Coast Guard. The frequency of the Coast Guard's inspections depends on the ferries gross tonnage and passenger capacity. Typically, the Coast Guard inspects ferries on a schedule ranging from quarterly to annually. If the vessel passed inspection then it means that the vessel and its equipment met all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.
After the inspection, the Coast Guard issues a Certificate of Inspection. The Certificate, which is valid for a period of one to three years, indicates the identity of the owner, the routes that a ferry may travel, minimum staffing requirements, minimum lifesaving equipment, minimum fire extinguishing equipment and the maximum number of passengers that may be on board at any given time. If the ferry is in an accident then it is important to look at the information contained on the Certificate of Inspection to see if the ferry owner and operator were in compliance with the Coast Guard's terms at the time of the accident.
Ferries usually operate in crowded waters and in many types of weather conditions. Often, they operate during the day and the night throughout the year. The conditions under which the ferries run often lead to accidents.
The New York Times reports that human error is often responsible for ferry accidents. Since ferries do operate in crowded waterways and under varying weather conditions, the potential for human error is similar to that of drivers on the roadways. However, a ferry accident has the potential for even more catastrophic consequences then a car accident on the highway. Ferries typically carry many passengers which makes the likelihood for casualties higher. Further, ferries, by definition, operate on the water. Typically, passengers do not wear personal flotation devices and, the possibility exists that passengers could end up in the water after a collision.
Ferries are important to the American transportation network. However, like all forms of transportation, ferry transportation carries risks that ferry owners, operators and passengers should be aware of prior to getting on board.