Jones Act Inclusion of Surfboards as ‘Vessels’ Creates W.C. Issues for Hawaii

What is the Jones Act?

Otherwise known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act brought into maritime law new rules of liability never before applied under the general maritime law. Section 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of June 5, 1920 is the pertinent section, commonly called “the Jones Act”, allowing a seaman suffering personal injury in the course of his employment to file an action for damages at law against his employer with a right of trial by jury. Thus, it is essential to hire a Jones Act lawyer who can properly navigate the complexities of your maritime personal injury claim. Jones Act Lawyer

The Definition of ‘Vessel’ in the Jones Act

The Jones Act specifically protects “Seamen”; it is applicable to “Any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the court of his employment, etc.” The fact question of whether the injured party is a “seaman” as defined by the “Jones Act” is of extreme important in determining whether the party has legal standing to bring a claim under the Act.  Just as the question of who constitutes a “Seaman” is important, equally as important is the question of what constitutes a “vessel”.

In 2005, the court determined the word “vessel” was defined in Stewart v Dutra Construction Co. as “every description of water-craft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”  This would be inclusive of freighters, in addition to surfboards and kayaks.

Insurance Premiums

Generally, if some of a single business’s instructors spend less than 30 percent of their time teaching on qualifying vessels such as surfboards and other instructors spending 30 percent or more of their annual time teaching on those vessels (requiring federal Jones Act coverage), this means that the store would have to comply with both coverage mandates, meaning pay two separate premiums. As a result of the inclusiveness, kayak or surfboard shops must pay federal insurance premiums in addition to workers compensation to the Department of Labor.

What are the Costs Associated with the Premiums?

To give an idea of the costs per year associated with the premiums, the Hawaii Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company  can be as much as $10,000 in annual premiums, and adding additional Jones Act coverage could be another $10,000 per year in premiums. This puts a very costly burden on many of these small recreational water-sport businesses.


If you have suffered injury due to an incident at sea or the conditions of your employment and need the assistance of a Jones Act lawyer, the maritime lawyers of O’Bryan Law can defend your rights and make sure you get the justice you need.

If you'd like to get in contact with us, please fill out the short form below and we will get in touch as soon as possible.

If you'd like to get in contact with us, please fill out the short form below and we will get in touch as soon as possible.