High river water and legal challenges

The challenges these extreme conditions place on vessel operators are obvious: fast moving water makes the handling of ships and tows much more difficult, and barge fleeting and terminal operators face the never ending forces of swift currents and fast rising and falling waters. Collisions, allisions and breakaways occur much more frequently.

In an effort to temper high-water perils, the Coast Guard can place special restrictions on boat operators and others that do business on our nation’s waterways. Minimum horsepower requirements and tow-size restrictions are often set during high water. Berth and fleeting operators are often required to use enhanced methods of securing vessels while not underway. But even with the best efforts and most stringent guidelines, accidents still happen. Careless vessel operators could pay dearly for inattention to safe practices.

Under the “Pennsylvania Rule” a vessel operator will be presumed to be at fault if it is involved in a casualty or causes injury or damage as a result of violating a law intended to prevent accidents. This can be overcome only by demonstrating that the violation could not have caused or contributed to the accident. This can be a weighty burden. For someone found to be in violation of such a rule or regulation, liability is but a foregone conclusion.  

The marine industry benefits when everyone is dedicated to safe practices. However, during extreme conditions such as severe weather, high water or other perils from Mother Nature, extra diligence is a must. To safeguard property and personnel, as well as that of others, companies should always be attuned to mandates from the Coast Guard and other regulatory agencies. Changes in the law can come as fast as inclement weather, so keeping informed and complying with these changes are crucial to minimizing liability exposure.

About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at john@fulweilerlaw.com . His website is www.saltwaterlaw.com.

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