|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
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 accident.
▪ 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
▪ 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
▪ 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
Whatever the situation, you will be in a better position to protect your rights if you
followed these instructions. Good luck…and BE SAFE!
Tim Akpinar Contact Information:
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|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