Maritime law is unfamiliar territory for the average individual to talk about. Even the majority of practicing attorneys are unfamiliar with this area of the law if they are simply general practitioners. Unlike the “rules of the road” that all drivers should be familiar with, the rules while driving a boat on a body of water can be a little fuzzier. Due to this, each case must be handled differently. In a general sense, cases dealing with larger bodies of water, such as the ocean, may be a little easier to predict liability. However, the predictive outcome can get even murkier when talking about rivers and lakes within a country’s land. It is important to know whether maritime law applies to a particular case because it might affect travel on certain lakes and rivers.

Distinctions of Lakes

To determine if maritime law applies to lakes, it is easiest to consider one simple question: Can it support trade? Supporting trade, in this case, refers to either interstate or foreign commerce. With lakes, usually it comes down to if it crosses borders between states, or countries. For example, the five great lakes in the United States (Erie, Huron, Superior, Michigan, Ontario) could technically fall under maritime laws, as they can be used to “support trade” between states and some being countries. This is due to some of the lakes connecting Canada and the United States, while others connect states within the U.S. This would allow them to be used for interstate and foreign trade. Foreign trade is considered to be with any country outside of the USA.

Distinctions of Rivers

Similar to lakes, a river will fall under maritime law when it can support interstate and foreign trade. Usually, it can be classified directly under the lakes distinction, since a large percentage of rivers run directly to a body of water that is considered a lake. Rivers have a bit more leeway when it comes to applying maritime law, though. A river can sometimes fall under maritime law even if they are not directly crossing state lines or country borders. They just need to be attached to a body of water that does cross state lines or country borders and also can be used for interstate and foreign trade.

After the distinction is made, it then falls to each court individually to determine if the distinction holds. As with some bodies of water, it’s a grey area where the state lines are drawn and hammered out. In other cases, it can be a clear distinction, so the state or country can easily make a decision.

If you are embroiled in such a case, it is always best to contact a maritime lawyer, as they will be able to clear the distinction up for you. Sometimes, the bodies of water may not be so obvious as to be able to make a clear distinction, but a specialized lawyer can help you wade through the murkiness.

Reach out to our experienced, maritime lawyers today for a consultation appointment!

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About Christopher Johns

Christopher Johns co-founded Lapeze & Johns with one thing in mind: civil justice for victims of negligence. Mr. Johns is an experienced trial lawyer who has tried over 50 cases to verdict and judgment throughout Texas, the Gulf Coast, and around the United States with a 98% success rate. His efforts throughout his time at the University of Houston Law Center and as a lawyer have garnered him many accolades, a 10.0 rating from AVVO, and Super Lawyer in Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Litigation every year since 2004. Read more about Christopher Johns here.

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