Who Is a Seaman?


When an oil rig accident attorney or a barge injury lawyer represents a client who experienced an injury at sea, one of the first questions deals with whether the client was a seaman when the incident occurred. Only a seaman can receive compensation under the Jones Act for an injury at sea. In addition, a beneficiary’s Jones Act lawyer must prove the victim was a seaman at the time of death at sea due to injury to obtain compensation for the family.

To have status as a seaman, a person can be a member of the crew working on fishing vessels, lay barges, crew boats, supply boats, tugs, towboats, semi-submersibles, jack-up rigs, freighters or tankers. Crew members, officers and captains are all seamen, and employees on movable or jack-up drilling rigs have seamen classifications as well. Pilots, longshoremen and people working on fixed platforms usually do not have the status of seamen, but other maritime remedies may be available for them.

To hold status as a seaman:

      • An employee must be helping to accomplish the mission of the vessel or contributing to its function.
      • The individual must have an association with a vessel in navigation, or with a group of vessels in navigation, that is significant in nature as well as in length of time. A seaman’s association with the vessel in navigation must be relatively permanent, and the employee must be on the ship obviously and chiefly to provide assistance with navigation or contribute to the ship’s work.
      • Working on a vessel for a short time does not make a land-based employee a seaman. The employee must meet the duration of association with a vessel and nature of work on the vessel requirements to be a member of the crew considered a seaman.
      • A Jones Act lawyer must distinguish between land-based workers with only infrequent associations with vessels in navigation and sea-based workers who may go ashore occasionally during their employment.
      • Courts should consider all the circumstances of a person’s employment rather than only the situation at the time of injury at sea to determine the employee’s status as a seaman.
      • Seaman status depends on the nature of an employee’s service, their position as a crew member, their association with the vessel and its function in navigable waters rather than on the site where the injury at sea occurs.
      • An employee must have worked at least 30 percent of their working time on a vessel in navigable waters to qualify as a seaman.

Statutes providing special protections for seamen do not define the term, so a Jones Act lawyer must analyze case law to find a general rule to determine the status of each individual who claims to be a seaman.

If you have received an injury at sea and have questions regarding your possible status as a seaman under the Jones Act and Maritime Law, a maritime attorney with the Burwell Nebout Trial Lawyers has the specialization necessary to discuss the requirements as they apply to your case.

We’re on your side. Contact us at (281) 645-5000 or email our team to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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A 15-year machinist for Union Pacific Railroad was injured when a locomotive coupled into his blue flagged locomotive in the diesel shop at Union Pacific’s Houston facility. Although the machinist failed to engage the shop derails and acknowledge the track alarm, the contention was that Union Pacific employee took one minute and forty-four second water break during a walk around prior to the coupling.

During this water break, the machinist blue flagged his locomotive and began working. Burwell Nebout filed suit against Union Pacific Railroad in Harris County. After a two-week trial in the 157th District Court in Harris County, the jury awarded the machinist $566,105. The jury determined that Union Pacific Railroad violated the federal regulation that absolutely prohibits coupling into a blue flagged locomotive.