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Unseaworthiness Defined

A vessel owner has a duty to provide and maintain a seaworthy vessel. That duty cannot be delegated to anyone else.

A vessel is seaworthy if the vessel and all of its parts and equipment are reasonably fit for their intended purpose and it is operated by a crew reasonably adequate and competent for the work assigned.

A vessel is unseaworthy if the vessel, or any of its parts or equipment, is not reasonably fit for its intended purpose or if its crew is not reasonably adequate or competent to perform the work assigned.

A vessel owner has a duty to provide adequate safety equipment for the vessel. However, the owner of the vessel is not required to furnish an accident‑free ship. A vessel owner is not called on to have the best parts and equipment, or the finest of crews, but is required to have what is reasonably proper and suitable for its intended use, and a crew that is reasonably competent and adequate.

Comments to the Jury Instruction

For a definition of a seaworthy vessel, see Ribitzki v. Canmar Reading & Bates, Ltd. Partnership, 111 F.3d 658, 664 (9th Cir.1997) and Havens v. F/T Polar Mist, 996 F.2d 215, 217-18 (9th Cir.1993).

A shipowner has the duty to a seaman employed on the ship to furnish a vessel and appurtenances which are reasonably fit for their use. This includes maintaining a ship's equipment in proper operating condition. The failure of a piece of equipment under proper and expected use is sufficient to establish unseaworthiness. Lee v. Pacific Far E. Line, 566 F.2d 65, 67 (9th Cir.1977). But see Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, 362 U.S. 539, 550 (1960) (no obligation to furnish accident‑free ship).

A vessel may be unseaworthy because of "defective" crew members. Pashby v. Universal Dredging Corp., 608 F.2d 1312, 1313-14 (9th Cir.1979) (violent or assaultive crew members may make vessel unseaworthy).

BS&J NOTE: Experienced maritime personal injury lawyers representing injured seaman must be intimately familiar with what constitutes unseaworthiness.

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