Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a complex body of rules, conventions, and treaties that govern private maritime business and other nautical matters — such as shipping or offenses occurring on open water. International rules, governing the use of the oceans and seas, are known as the Law of the Sea.

In the United States, federal courts have jurisdiction over maritime law. The U.S. Constitution grants this power to federal courts in Article III, Section 2. But why is maritime law so important, you ask? Let’s dive into the depths of this little-known area of law and find out!

A Brief History of Maritime Law

Maritime law is one of the oldest branches of law. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. The Romans, in particular, were known for their comprehensive maritime laws, the “Lex Rhodia”. This body of laws covered numerous aspects related to ships, shipping, and maritime trade.

The Middle Ages saw the advent of the “Laws of Oleron”, a maritime code enacted by Eleanor of Aquitaine — Queen of France and later England — in the 12th century. These laws were adopted widely throughout Europe, and significantly influenced later maritime codes.

In the United States, the first maritime law was the “Shipping Act” of 1789. This act aimed to promote American shipping by granting U.S. ships preferential treatment in domestic ports. In the centuries since, American maritime law has evolved to encompass a wide range of issues from maritime contracts and torts to marine insurance and piracy.

Jurisdiction in Maritime Law

Maritime law is unique in that it has its own jurisdiction separate from the traditional court system. In the U.S., federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over most maritime matters. However, state courts may also hear some maritime cases under a doctrine known as the “saving to suitors clause”. This clause allows a party to bring a maritime claim in state court, unless the claim is for a maritime lien, or involves a federal statute granting exclusive jurisdiction to federal courts.

The jurisdiction of maritime law also extends to the high seas. This means that if a crime or other actionable event occurs onboard a ship flying the flag of a specific nation, that nation has jurisdiction over the matter.

Key Concepts in Maritime Law

The Jones Act

A significant cornerstone of U.S. maritime law is the Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. This law provides benefits and protections to seamen who are injured or become ill while in service to a vessel. It allows them to sue their employer for personal injury damages, a remedy not generally available to workers under common law.

Maritime Liens

Maritime liens are another important aspect of maritime law. They are claims against a vessel for services rendered or injuries caused by the vessel. They are unique because they “follow the ship”, i.e., the lien attaches to the ship and remains with the ship regardless of changes in ownership.

Salvage Claims

Salvage claims arise when a person or entity voluntarily saves a ship or its cargo from peril at sea. The salvor is entitled to a reward, which is usually a proportion of the value of the ship and/or cargo saved.

Limitation of Liability

Maritime law allows shipowners to limit their liability for certain types of claims. This is based on the principle that the risks associated with seafaring are so great that it would be unfair to expose shipowners to unlimited liability.

The Role of the Adley Law Firm in Maritime Law

As mentioned above, maritime law is a complex and specialized field. It requires a deep understanding of the various laws, treaties, and conventions that govern maritime activities. This is where the Adley Law Firm comes in.

At the Adley Law Firm, we have a team of experienced maritime lawyers who are well-versed in all aspects of maritime law. Whether you’re a seaman injured on the job, a shipowner facing a maritime lien, or a salvor seeking a fair reward, we can help. Give us a call at (713) 999-8669 to discuss your case.

Here’s a fun fact: did you know that the Titanic disaster in 1912 led to significant changes in maritime law? The disaster highlighted the need for improved safety measures and led to the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in 1914.


Maritime law is a fascinating field that blends history, international relations, and legal intricacies. It has a direct and significant impact on global trade, environmental protection, and the rights and safety of seamen.

Maritime law is as vast and mysterious as the oceans themselves. Navigating its murky waters can be challenging, but with the right guidance, you can successfully chart a course through any legal storm.

Remember, when it comes to maritime law, you’re not alone. The Adley Law Firm is here to help. Because at the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat. And that boat is governed by maritime law.

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