The Risks of Unseaworthy Equipment

engineer working on maintenance in vessel boiler room


Unseaworthiness is a term that gets tossed around a lot when it comes to maritime law, but it can actually be more complex than many people think at first.

Most sailors or maritime workers hear the phrase “unseaworthy vessel” and imagine some decrepit old boat, full of holes and tears in the sail, and while that’s true, there’s more to it than that. The doctrine of unseaworthiness refers to everything involved with a vessel’s operation, from the vessel itself to the onboard equipment, even to the health and safety of its crew, and any of these can contribute to the vessel’s overall seaworthiness or unseaworthiness.

The equipment used on a vessel, whether it’s for the operation of the vessel, the navigation of the vessel, or other onboard equipment used to perform daily tasks and job duties, can pose major safety risks if not properly used or maintained, and can lead to serious injury or death for anyone onboard the vessel.

Common Causes of Unseaworthy Equipment on a Vessel

For equipment onboard a vessel to be considered unseaworthy, it simply means it can not currently fulfill its intended purpose, and may pose a health or safety risk to those on-board. The causes of this damage or malfunction will vary widely depending on the equipment in question, but in many cases, the issues tend to stem from a few primary causes, including:

  • Malfunction: Due to wear, damage, or improper use, equipment onboard a ship in navigation may not function as intended, leading to damage to the vessel itself, injuries to the crew, or both
  • Improper use/improper crew training: If the workers aboard the vessel are not properly trained on the usage of this equipment, it can either lead to direct injury through incorrect usage of the tools and equipment, or cause damage that poses a risk of injury down the line
  • Lack of maintenance: The owner of a vessel is ultimately responsible for the proper maintenance, repair, and/or replacement of any equipment on board their vessel, especially for equipment that has a strict maintenance schedule (such as motors or engine components). If these repairs are not completed as needed, the parts could begin to pose a safety risk to the crew.
  • Defective products: Some equipment can require maintenance or replacement even before it has a chance to be used, due to issues like incorrect manufacturing, improper installation, or even a design fault in the equipment itself. If a product is found to be defective in any way but is still used on a vessel, the vessel’s owner may be responsible for any injuries that result.

Common Injuries from Unseaworthy or Damaged Vessel Equipment

The injuries resulting from the use of this equipment can take many forms, and can often result in a change in quality of life, ability to earn a living, or even death in many cases. Some of the most common injuries from this equipment includes:

  • Burn injuries caused by fires or steam due to improperly maintained engine parts or misused equipment 
  • Cable and rope injuries from ropes, nets, winches/cranes, or other rigging onboard a vessel when the rope itself has not been replaced or is too damaged to be used safely
  • Crushing injuries, such as when a cargo suspension breaks or is used incorrectly, or if a damaged conveyor belt causes injury to a worker
  • Oxygen deprivation/chemical inhalation from equipment that uses hazardous gases to function 

These are just a few of the injuries that can typically result from damaged, un-maintained, or otherwise unseaworthy equipment aboard a vessel in navigation, and any of them can have a major effect on your life and well-being. 

Have You Been Injured By Unseaworthy Equipment Aboard Your Vessel?

If you or a loved one have been injured due to unseaworthy equipment while working or relaxing on the water, O’Bryan Law can help. Our maritime lawyers and Jones Act attorneys can help determine the cause of your injury, and help you fight for justice against even the biggest shipowners. Contact O’Bryan today with the details of your maritime injury case.

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