Drowning in the Maritime Industry

by | Apr 24, 2023 | Drowning, Maritime Accident, Maritime Injury, Maritime Law, Workplace Safety

Despite safety regulations, drowning is still a major concern for workers in the maritime industry. Working on or near waterways increases the risk of drowning incidents, which is amplified by factors like weather, human error, and equipment accidents. Drowning incidents are all the more troubling when negligence is the cause, such as inadequate training, lack of safety equipment, or wanton recklessness.

If you have lost a loved one in a drowning incident, you may be able to recover damages under maritime law. At Kherkher Garcia, LLP, our maritime offshore injury lawyers can explore the fatal incident and your rights, and determine if you qualify for compensation.

To learn more about drowning in the maritime industry, see our guide below. Contact us directly if you have questions about a maritime injury.

What is Drowning?

Drowning is a form of death by suffocation. It occurs when a person’s airway is blocked by water, preventing them from breathing. When this happens, the body’s cells begin to die from lack of oxygen.

The exact process of drowning varies depending on the circumstances. In some cases, a person may inhale a large amount of water immediately, which can cause them to lose consciousness and drown within seconds. In other cases, a person may slowly inhale small amounts of water over time, which can lead to a more gradual decline in oxygen levels.

No matter how it happens, drowning can have a devastating impact on the body. The following are some of the things that can happen to the body during drowning:

    • The lungs can fill with water, which can make it difficult or impossible to breathe.
    • The heart rate and blood pressure can increase, which can put a strain on the heart.
    • The brain can be deprived of oxygen, which can lead to brain damage or death.
    • Other organs, such as the kidneys and liver, can also be damaged by lack of oxygen.

If someone is drowning, it is important to get them out of the water and start CPR immediately. With prompt medical attention, many people who drown can be saved.

Most Common Reasons for Drowning in the Maritime Industry

Sometimes, maritime accidents are just that – accidents. In some cases, all necessary training, safety precautions, and gear are in place, but someone still drowns. Unfortunately, that is not the majority of cases. Most drowning in the maritime industry are due to preventable factors.

The more common reasons for drowning deaths in the maritime industry include the following:

    • Lack of Safety Equipment: The absence or inadequate provision of safety equipment, such as life jackets, flotation devices, or rescue boats, can increase the risk of drowning.
    • Human Error: Mistakes made by crew members, such as failing to follow safety protocols, lack of training or experience, and misjudging weather or sea conditions, can lead to accidents and drowning.
    • Inclement Weather and Rough Seas: Severe weather conditions such as high waves, storms, and heavy winds can create dangerous conditions for crew members, particularly those working on small vessels.
    • Capsizing and Sinking: Capsizing and sinking of vessels due to overloading, structural failure, or navigational errors can result in drowning.
    • Falls Overboard: Crew members can fall overboard due to slips, trips, or missteps, particularly when working on open decks or in challenging sea conditions.
    • Intoxication: Alcohol and drug use can impair judgment and coordination, leading to accidents and drowning.
    • Lack of Emergency Response: Delayed or inadequate emergency response can reduce the chances of survival for crew members who fall overboard or become trapped in a sinking vessel.

It is essential to prioritize safety and provide proper training, equipment, and emergency response protocols to prevent drowning incidents in the maritime industry.

Causes of Work-Related Drowning

There are many accidents and incidents that can lead to drowning. In the maritime industry, there are some specific factors that increase the risk of work-related drowning. Some of the factors that affect maritime workers include:

    • Lack of life preserving equipment
    • Damaged life preserving equipment
    • Inadequate training
    • Worker fatigue
    • Slip, trip, and fall accidents
    • Equipment failure
    • Faulty or damaged life rafts or boats
    • Vessel sinkings
    • Unsafe access for entering or exiting a vessel

Workers in maritime occupations are aware of the risks of this industry. However, they have the right to a safe work environment. When employers or ship owners do not maintain a safe environment, workers are at an ever greater risk of injury or death.

Can Negligence Cause Maritime Drowning?

Yes, negligence can cause maritime drowning. Negligence occurs when a person or entity fails to act with reasonable care, resulting in harm to another person. In the maritime industry, negligence can take many forms, such as:

    • Failing to provide adequate safety equipment
    • Not properly maintaining vessels
    • Not training crew members on proper safety procedures

For example, if a vessel owner fails to maintain the vessel’s structural integrity, such as not repairing a damaged hull, the vessel may capsize, causing crew members to drown. Similarly, if a crew member falls overboard due to a lack of proper safety equipment or training, such as not having a life jacket or not knowing how to use it, it could be considered negligence on the part of the vessel owner or operator.

Additionally, if a crew member is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on duty, the vessel owner or operator may be found negligent for allowing an impaired individual to work in a hazardous environment, which could result in a drowning incident.

It is important for ship owners and employers to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their crew members and prevent maritime drowning incidents.

How to Prevent Drowning in the Maritime Industry

Preventing drowning incidents in the maritime industry requires a multi-faceted approach that involves implementing proper safety measures, providing adequate training, and promoting a culture of safety onboard vessels. Here are some steps that can be taken to prevent drowning in the maritime industry:

Use Safety Equipment

All vessels should have appropriate safety equipment, such as life jackets, rescue boats, and emergency beacons. Crew members should receive training in how to use the equipment. There also should be training on how to properly maintain equipment.

Promote a Culture of Safety

Vessel owners and operators should promote a culture of safety onboard their vessels by implementing safety policies, conducting regular safety meetings and drills, and encouraging crew members to report any unsafe conditions or incidents.

Training on Safety Procedures

Crew members should receive regular training on safety procedures, including how to properly use safety equipment, how to respond to emergency situations, and how to identify and mitigate potential hazards.

Monitor Weather and Sea Conditions

Regularly monitoring weather and sea conditions can help prevent accidents and ensure that crew members are aware of any potential hazards.

Regular Vessel Inspections

Regular vessel inspections can help identify potential safety hazards and ensure that vessels are maintained properly.

Drug and Alcohol Policies

Vessel owners and operators should implement policies prohibiting drug and alcohol use while on duty to prevent impaired crew members from working in a hazardous environment. Similarly, workers should avoid consuming alcohol or drugs while working in areas where there is a risk of injury or falls.

Proper Staffing

Adequate staffing levels ensure that crew members are not overworked or fatigued, which can increase the risk of accidents and drowning incidents.

By implementing these measures and promoting a culture of safety onboard vessels, vessel owners and operators can help prevent drowning incidents and ensure the safety of their crew members. By following safety guidelines and reporting potential hazards, maritime workers also contribute to a safer working environment.

What to Do if Someone is Drowning

CPR for drowning is a life-saving technique that can be used to help someone who is not breathing after being submerged in water. It involves giving the person chest compressions and rescue breaths. To perform CPR for drowning, follow these steps:

    1. Get the person out of the water and onto a hard surface.
    2. Check to see if the person is breathing.
    3. If the person is not breathing, call 911.
    4. Open the person’s airway by tilting their head back and lifting their chin.
    5. Pinch the person’s nose closed.
    6. Take a deep breath and cover the person’s mouth with yours.
    7. Give two rescue breaths, each lasting one second.
    8. Check to see if the person’s chest is rising and falling.
    9. If the person’s chest is not rising and falling, start chest compressions.
    10. Place the heel of your hand on the center of the person’s chest, between the nipples.
    11. Place your other hand on top of the first hand.
    12. Lock your elbows and straighten your arms.
    13. Push down on the person’s chest, using your body weight to deliver the compressions.
    14. Push down hard and fast, at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.
    15. After every 30 compressions, give two rescue breaths.
    16. Continue CPR until the person starts breathing on their own or until help arrives.

It is important to note that CPR for drowning is not always effective. However, it is the best chance that a drowning victim has of survival. If you see someone drowning, do not hesitate to call 911 and start CPR. You could save a life.

Is Drowning Covered by Maritime Law?

Drowning is covered by maritime law. Maritime law is a body of law that governs activities and events that occur on navigable waters, including oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. This includes accidents and incidents that result in drowning.

Seamen who are injured or killed due to negligence are protected by The Jones Act. If a seaman drowns as a result of negligence, their dependents are entitled to death benefits under this law. Death benefits may include lost wages, funeral or burial costs, and possibly compensation for pain and suffering.

Other maritime workers, such as deckhands and shipyard workers are protected by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). Drowning deaths are also covered, and the victim’s dependents may be able to recover compensation.

The specific compensation available may vary depending on the circumstances of the accident and the applicable laws.

What Compensation is Available Under Maritime Law?

Maritime death claims, or wrongful death claims, refer to the legal process that follows the death of a seafarer, offshore worker, or any person who died in a maritime accident. The compensation available in maritime death claims may vary depending on several factors, including the specific circumstances surrounding the accident, the jurisdiction where the claim is being made, and the applicable laws.

Typically, compensation in maritime death claims may include:

    • Death Benefits: The family members of the deceased may be eligible to receive compensation for the loss of financial support and services provided by their family member. This compensation may include a lump sum payment or ongoing payments.
    • Funeral Expenses: The surviving family may be able to recover the cost of the deceased’s funeral and burial via compensation.
    • Pain and Suffering: Surviving family members of the victim may be eligible to receive compensation for the emotional pain and suffering resulting from the loss of their loved one.
    • Punitive Damages: In some cases, the court may order the responsible party to pay additional damages as a punishment for their negligence or intentional misconduct.
    • Lost Wages and Benefits: If the deceased was an offshore worker or seafarer, their family may be eligible to receive compensation for the lost wages and benefits that their family member would have earned had they not died.

It’s important to note that the laws and regulations regarding maritime death claims may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the jurisdiction in which the claim is being made. It’s recommended to consult with an experienced maritime injury lawyer to understand your rights and options.

Get Help after a Maritime Injury or Death

If you suffer an injury, or you have lost a loved one, in the maritime industry, you may be entitled to benefits or compensation under maritime law. The best way to determine your rights and options is to work with a skilled maritime injury lawyer.

At Kherkher Garcia, our maritime lawyers have more than three decades of experience with maritime injury and death claims. If you have questions or need help with a maritime injury or death, we can help. Find out more with a free consultation by calling 713-333-1030, or by contacting us online.

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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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