MIAMI, Florida– This past Sunday, a pleasure boat collided into a Washington State ferryboat. The report is that the operator of the pleasure boat was below deck at the time, and that is the likely reason the ferry was not observed by the operator of the pleasure boat. Fortunately, there was no significant damages to either vessel, or to any person. The ferryboat was cleared to continue with its operation without any shutdown.
A collision between two vessels on navigable waters triggers the application of maritime law, and there are very special laws that apply to collisions at sea. Typically, when two vessels collide, the doctrine of comparative negligence will apply where each vessel will be assigned a percentage of fault in the collision. In this case fault will likely fall on the operator of the smaller vessel who should have maintained a proper lookout and gotten out of the way.
However, often times in a boating collision case involving two vessels, both vessels are found to be at fault, and a percentage of fault is allocated to each. Had there been any personal injuries, the more likely party at fault would be the operator of the pleasure boat, who by reports was not keeping a proper lookout. The case would be governed by general maritime law since it involves a collision of vessels on navigable waterways. The test is whether there is a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity and if the incident has a potential to disrupt maritime commerce. A collision at sea like this is a clear example of admiralty jurisdiction.