Every job has its share of risks. Some are
greater than others. It’s safe to say that
the risks faced by commercial seamen
and commercial fishermen are greater
than those in other jobs. When you look
at the work environment on commercial
vessels, it’s not surprising. Going to sea
isn’t a nine to five job…shifts run twelve
hours or longer.

I get tons of phone calls and e-mails from
all over the United States…from chief
engineers, captains, deckhands,
commercial fishermen…and once I’m
done answering their questions, most of
them confide that they wouldn’t want
their children to follow in their footsteps.

It’s no wonder that such an environment
can result in fatigue, sleeplessness,
stress, and accidents. We can plaster
every bulkhead with safety signs that
read, “Act Safely”…“Think Safety”…“Be
Safe”. We can employ safety training and
accident prevention programs. I think
these are all good things and we should
continue with them. But sometimes,
accidents do happen…despite the
training…despite the caution. People
have lapses of attention, or they’re
pressured to do too many things at once,
or they daydream. Sometimes a crew
member will be intimidated into carrying
out a dangerous order against his or her
better judgment…or they may be
reluctant to request safety equipment
because the suggestion would be
scoffed at.

Whatever the case, in any maritime
accident, one must know WHAT TO DO. It’
s important to PREVENT accidents…but
it’s also important to know WHAT TO DO
if an accident does happen. With this in
mind, let’s think about the things you
should do if you’re involved in an

▪ The first thing you should do is
determine if you need first aid or other
medical attention. THIS COMES FIRST. If
you need either, GET IT FAST! If the
vessel has a medical officer, see them.

▪ Report the accident to the senior watch
officer or captain. Ask for an accident or
incident report to be filled out and
request a copy of the report. Document
the vessel name, date, time, watch,
location, vessel departure port, vessel
arrival port, description of the accident,
description of injuries, names of other
personnel on watch with you, names of
witnesses (including passengers, if
applicable). Take down contact
information for these people. Try to
include a home address or post office
box, telephone and e-mail. If your ship
docks two days later, it may be
impossible to contact them again.

▪ Document the dialogue, if applicable,
that preceded the accident. Were you
ordered to do something? Did you issue
an order? Write down what it was that
was said. If exposure to a hazardous
substance is involved, write down the
name of the substance and your
symptoms after exposure. Did you feel
lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous, faint…did
you experience difficulty breathing?

▪ After you’ve attended to your medical
needs and made an initial report of what
happened, take photographs of visible
signs of injury, such as lacerations,
punctures, stitches, black and blue
marks, swollen ankles or wrists or other
joints…or ask a friend to do so.

▪ Take photographs of the equipment or
defective condition that caused the
injuries, including the surrounding area.
If you’re artistically inclined, a sketch
could be valuable for future reference.

▪ You’ll be asked to sign a copy of the
accident report. You should sign the
report…after reading it and being
satisfied that it describes the accident
correctly with adequate detail, without
unfairly prejudicing your rights.

▪ Do NOT sign anything that says
“waiver” or “release”, or contains any
language making you forfeit your rights
to bring a claim or lawsuit. Do NOT sign
anything you do not understand. Forms
used in a vessel’s standard operating
procedures should be drafted so that
anyone can understand them…if that’s
not the case, something is wrong.

▪ Do NOT sign anything in which you
admit to liability. Aside from the issue of
prejudicing your rights in a Jones Act
action, you may expose yourself to
criminal liability. It’s no secret that the
maritime industry has undergone
change...in ways that have hurt the
dignity, safety, and financial security of
commercial seamen…officers and rates
alike. Keep in mind that many violations
that would have been treated as civil
offenses, with only monetary fines, now
impose jail sentences and license
suspensions or revocations. Proceed
with caution!

▪ Seek necessary follow-up medical
attention from an impartial doctor on
shore. Note the word
IMPARTIAL…meaning a doctor who is
not obligated to act with loyalty towards
any particular interest…be it the vessel,
the insurance company, or other entity.

▪ Keep a file on what happened. You may
return the work and forget about the
whole thing…showing the papers to your
grandchildren thirty years from now at a
Thanksgiving dinner. Or you may feel
that returning to work jeopardizes your
health or aggravates your injury. You
may need to file for maintenance and
cure…or you may feel your situation
merits a legal action to make you whole
for your injuries and damages.

Whatever the situation, you will be in a
better position to protect your rights if
you followed these instructions. Good
luck…and BE SAFE!

© 2006 by Tim Akpinar - All Rights Reserved
The contents of this website may not be copied or transmitted without the prior
written consent of Tim Akpinar

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Back to Maritime Law
Back to Commercial Vessels
What to do in a Jones Act Injury-What to do If You Are Injured at Sea
Jones Act Injury - What Should You Do? Information and Legal Resources for an Injury at Sea - Offshore and Inland
On small fishing vessels, it’s easy to
lose your balance on rolling and
pitching decks in rough seas,
negotiating your way around trawl
rigging and slippery patches of fish
scales and hydraulic oil. On ocean going
ships, the food and accommodations
can be superior to small vessels...but
long periods away from family can be
stressful, as well as accountability for
expensive machinery, valuable cargo,
and protecting your hard-earned license.
On inland waters and rivers, life aboard
towboats, tugboats, pushboats and
riverboats is also mentally and
physically tough. Trying to steal some
sleep before the next twelve hour stint
can be a challenge…as daylight leaks
into your cabin, a 3,000 horsepower
diesel runs non-stop twenty feet from
your pillow, and people open and close
doors in the passageway outside.
Material Data Safety Sheets
Not every type of injury will be
a sprained ankle or broken
finger...the symptoms of
certain types of injuries won't
even manifest themselves
until the person is ashore. For
instance, if an injury involves
exposure to chemical fumes
during the venting of a tank,
one should learn what it was
that in that tank. Try to get a
MSDS (material safety data
sheet). An MSDS may be up to
ten pages long and contain
valuable information about a
product. A good MSDS should
contain the following

▪Product Name
▪Company Identification
▪24 Hour Emergency Numbers
▪Physical Properties
▪Chemical Properties
▪Product Components
▪Engineering Controls
▪Occupational Exposure Limits
▪Physical Description
▪Immediate Health Effects
▪Delayed Health Effects
▪First - Aid Measures
▪Fire Fighting Measures
▪Handling & Storage Info
▪Exposure Controls
▪Personal Protection
▪Stability & Reactivity
▪Toxicological Information
▪Ecological Information
▪Transporting Info
▪Disposal Considerations
▪Regulatory Information

Material safety data sheets
can be a life saver. If you were
exposed to a chemical
substance, there is another
good reason for obtaining an
MSDS. You can furnish your
physician with a copy. If you
experience things like
respiratory capacity loss,
shortness of breath,
dizziness, loss of balance or
other longer  term symptoms
following a severe exposure,
the information will be
valuable to the physician. After
all, you can't expect a doctor to
be a walking encyclopedia of
toxicological information. The
information you provide can
help the doctor look in the
right direction to make the
necessary diagnosis for
rehabilitation and recovery.

"Cure" may become an
important issue if you are
injured. If you've been to the
Maritime Law and
Commercial Fishing, you
could read maintenance and
cure. Maintenance is the
money intended to cover the
living expenses of a seaman.
It is an embarrassingly low
figure...around the order of
$12 or $14 per day in some
cases. It would impossible to
live anywhere but out of the
back of a station wagon on
that kind of money.

But "Cure", the money for
medical treatment until a
person reaches maximum
medical improvement...that
can be very important. An MRI
for the cervical or lumbar
spine costs close to
$1,000...and that's using the
workers' compensation fee
schedule. When hospitals or
diagnostic imaging centers
apply private rates, they can
be even more expensive.

That's why cure is an
important element of an
injured seaman's economic
damages...medical expenses
today can be astronomical.
But keep in mind that cure
won't be paid until a seaman
thinks he or she feels better. It
will be paid until a medical
consultant hired by the
insurance company makes a
determination if continuing
treatment will be necessary.