Does Maritime law apply to accidents on rivers and lakes?

Does Maritime law apply to accidents on rivers and lakes?

When most people think of maritime law, they usually imagine accidents that occur offshore or in open blue water involving vessels such as barges, cargo ships, and oil platforms. But what about the waters that surround our shores such as lakes and rivers?  May individuals such as river boat pilots, fishing guides, and other individuals who work inshore on lakes and rivers take advantage of maritime law and the remedies that it provides?

This determination could be extremely important as it will determine whether claims under the Jones Act and other maritime remedies are available.

This question primarily hinges on the characteristics of the body of water where the incident occurred. If the event occurred on “navigable waters” then it will be within admiralty jurisdiction and maritime law and remedies will become available to the injured individual. A waterway is considered navigable for maritime purposes if it presently supports interstate commercial activity or if, in its present condition, it is capable of supporting interstate commercial activity.

However, the legal definition of navigability differs when analyzing a lake and a river.


The biggest consideration when determining whether maritime law applies to a lake is whether the lake is capable of supporting interstate commerce across state lines or foreign trade to another country. This means that if the event occurred on a lake that either crosses over the border of another state or into a country then maritime law will apply.


Rivers also will fall under maritime law if they flow into another state or country. However, unlike lakes, this is not the only characteristic that will determine if maritime law applies. If a river flows into or is connected to a separate body of water that crosses one of these borders, then the river will also be considered navigable even if the path of the river itself does not cross into another state or country.

Figuring out where these borders exist or whether the body of water can support trade across these lines in its present conditions involves complex issues. It is crucial to contact an experienced maritime lawyer to help navigate these questions. Contact one of our maritime attorneys at Scott Vicknair at 504-500-1111 for a free consultation on your maritime injury claim today.