The Master's Practical Guide to Maritime Law

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The Master's Practical Guide to Maritime Law


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This first edition of The Master’s Practical Guide to Maritime Law is a comprehensive, easy to follow guide written specifically for Masters. 

When something goes wrong on board, legal issues often arise, and it is the Master’s responsibility to react appropriately. A Master is not a lawyer, but needs to understand how to respond within the confines of the law to protect the interests of themselves, the shipowner and other crew members. This guide bridges the gap between theory and practice by exploring practical real-world scenarios commonly encountered by Masters, whether in port or at sea. It offers valuable guidance on how to approach legal issues effectively, highlighting best practices, and providing expert advice on managing legal risks with particular emphasis on the commercial aspects that form a significant part of every Master’s responsibilities on board.

This guide is a valuable educational resource, not only for Masters but for individuals working across the whole industry. Chief officers, shipowners, P&I Clubs, officers in training and training institutions would all benefit from accessing a copy. 

The Master’s Practical Guide to Maritime Law is:

  • A detailed, practical guide relevant to real-life situations.
  • Designed to help Masters protect themselves within the legal framework.
  • Equally suited to seasoned Masters seeking to refresh their knowledge and Masters embarking on their first voyage.
  • An easily accessible resource helping Masters navigate common legal issues and pitfalls and assist in protecting the shipowner’s interest.
  • A guide covering both criminal and commercial law.

Additional Information
Author International Chamber of Shipping and International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations
Publisher International Chamber of Shipping Publications
Edition First Edition
Publication month 2023 - October
ISBN 978-1-913997-47-2
Shipping Weight 1.400Kg



Editorial notes  

Part 1: General

Chapter 1: Introducing the law  

1.1 Introduction  

1.2 Law

1.2.1 Maritime law  

1.3 Applicable law on board

1.4 Legal systems

1.5 How the law is divided up

1.6 International law

1.6.1 General  

1.6.2 International agreements

1.6.3 MoU

1.7 National law  

1.7.1 Public national law  

1.7.2 Private national law and other rules  

1.8 Maritime zones and jurisdictions  

1.8.1 Maritime zones  

1.8.2 Freedom of navigation  

1.8.3 Jurisdiction  

1.8.4 Flag State principle

1.8.5 Law and order on board  

1.9 Master’s best practices  

1.9.1 The Master and the law  

1.9.2 The Master and maritime zones and jurisdictions  

Chapter 2: The Master’s responsibilities to the shipowner  

2.1 Introduction  

2.2 The Master’s roles and tasks  

2.3 Statutory tasks  

2.3.1 The Master and the ISM Code

2.3.2 The Master’s special statutory responsibilities

2.4 Technical tasks  

2.5 Commercial tasks  

2.6 Some specific tasks for the Master  

2.6.1 The Master as the last person on board  

2.6.2 The Master on multiple ships  

2.6.3 Master’s role during dry docking

2.7 Master’s best practices

Chapter 3: Master’s overriding authority and discretion  

3.1 Introduction  

3.1.1 Master: command and control  

3.1.2 The Master as representative of the shipowner  

3.1.3 Legal authority

3.2 Master’s discretion for safety and the marine environment  

3.3 Master’s discretion for safety and security  

3.4 Master’s overriding authority

3.4.1 ISM/SMS

3.5 Summary of the Master’s overriding authority and discretion  

3.6 Master’s best practices

Chapter 4: Personnel management  

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Master and personnel management  

4.2.1 IMO/ILO

4.2.2 Crewing numbers  

4.2.3 Quality

4.2.4 Seafarers’ hours of work and rest  

4.2.5 Seafarers’ familiarisation  

4.3 Management of shipboard health and quarantine  

4.3.1 Physical health  

4.3.2 Mental health  

4.3.3 Quarantine  

4.4 Master’s best practices

4.4.1 Documents

4.4.2 Duties and rights of the Master  

Chapter 5: Master’s liability, accountability, responsibility and risks  

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Liability

5.3 Accountability  

5.4 Responsibility

5.4.1 Statutory responsibilities  

5.4.2 Commercial responsibilities  

5.5 Limits on liability, accountability and responsibility

5.5.1 Crew misconduct  

5.6 Risks

5.6.1 Typical definitions of risk  

5.6.2 Legal risks

5.6.3 Commercial risks

5.6.4 Risk of civil liabilities

5.7 Mitigation of risks  

5.7.1 Mitigation of legal risks

5.7.2 Mitigation of commercial risks

5.8 Negligence  

5.8.1 Negligence  

5.8.2 Gross negligence

5.8.3 Negligence under international law

5.8.4 Negligence under national law

5.8.5 Negligence under contracts  

5.9 Master’s best practices

Chapter 6: Third persons on board  

6.1 Introduction

6.1.1 Seafarers and non-seafarers  

6.2 Third persons on board  

6.2.1 Third persons  

6.2.2 Third person claims damage  

6.2.3 Third person causes damage

6.3 Master’s best practices  

6.3.1 Best practices on reporting by the Master

Part 2: Statutory/legal

Chapter 7: Master’s criminal accountability and criminal investigation authority  

7.1 Introduction  

7.2 Master and criminal accountability  

7.2.1 Pollution  

7.2.2 Illicit trafficking  

7.2.3 Marine casualties  

7.3 Master and criminal investigation authority  

7.3.1 Criminal investigation

7.3.2 Enforcement measures

7.3.3 Suspect on board  

7.4 Master’s best practices

7.4.1 The Master as suspect under criminal law  

7.4.2 Master as investigator under criminal law

Chapter 8: General average and particular average  

8.1 Introduction

8.2 Particular average  

8.3 General average

8.3.1 York-Antwerp Rules  

8.4 Keeping records and reporting  

8.4.1 Keeping records  

8.4.2 Reporting  

8.5 Master’s best practices  

Chapter 9: Master’s role in marine casualty and accident investigation procedures  

9.1 Introduction  

9.2 International law

9.2.1 Conventions  

9.2.2 Definitions  

9.3 Marine safety investigation

9.3.1 Reporting  

9.3.2 Protection of evidence  

9.3.3 National marine safety investigation  

9.4 Master’s best practices

Chapter 10: Maritime security  

10.1 Introduction

10.1.1 The ISPS Code

10.1.2 The Master  

10.2 Cyber security  

10.2.1 Threats  

10.2.2 Cyber risk management

10.2.3 Master and cyber security  

10.3 Piracy

10.3.1 Introduction  

10.3.2 Protective measures

10.3.3 Private armed guards

10.3.4 Master and piracy

10.4 Stowaways  

10.4.1 Prevention

10.4.2 Disembarkation of stowaways

10.4.3 Master and stowaways  

10.5 Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers  

10.5.1 Rendering assistance

10.5.2 Disembarkation of rescued persons

10.5.3 The Master and rendering assistance

10.6 Master’s best practices

10.6.1 Cybercrime

10.6.2 Piracy

10.6.3 Stowaways  

10.6.4 Migrants/rescued persons

Part 3: Commercial

Chapter 11: Marine insurance: Hull and Machinery (H&M) and Protection and Indemnity (P&I)  

11.1 Introduction  

11.1.1 Marine insurance

11.1.2 Marine insurance policies

11.2 H&M insurance

11.3 P&I insurance

11.4 Legal context  

11.5 Master’s best practices

11.5.1 Risk management

11.5.2 Seaworthiness  

11.5.3 Reporting

11.5.4 The ISM Code

11.5.5 International navigation conditions

Chapter 12: Risk management of cargo handling and ship stability  

12.1 Introduction

12.2 Risk management of cargo handling

12.2.1 Framework of international law

12.3 Stability and risk management

12.3.1 Stability Booklet

12.3.2 SOLAS

12.3.3 Tankers and MARPOL

12.4 Master’s best practices

12.4.1 Cargo handling  

12.4.2 Ship stability

Chapter 13: Towage and salvage compared  

13.1 Introduction  

13.2 Towage

13.2.1 Planned towage operations

13.2.2 Emergency towage

13.2.3 Towing Master’s responsibilities  

13.3 Salvage

13.3.1 The Master’s authority and responsibilities  

13.3.2 Contracts

13.3.3 Lloyd’s Open Form (LOF)

13.4 Towing or salvage

13.5 Master’s best practices  

13.5.1 Towage  

13.5.2 Salvage

Chapter 14: Carriage of goods by sea: common carrier versus private carrier  

14.1 Introduction

14.1.1 Carrier

14.1.2 Specific carriers

14.2 Common carrier  

14.3 Private carrier

14.4 Master’s best practices

Chapter 15: The Master’s contractual obligations in cargo management  

15.1 Introduction

15.1.1 Types of ship  

15.2 Dangerous goods

15.2.1 Material Safety Data Sheet  

15.3 Wet cargo  

15.3.1 Legal framework – wet cargo in bulk  

15.3.2 Contractual framework – wet cargo

15.4 Dry cargo

15.4.1 Legal framework – dry cargo in bulk

15.4.2 Contractual framework – dry cargo

15.5 Master’s best practices

Chapter 16: Charterparties’ fundamental terms  

16.1 Introduction

16.2 Charterparties

16.2.1 Contract

16.2.2 Description of the charterparty  

16.2.3 Standard charterparty form

16.3 Main types of charter  

16.3.1 Voyage charter  

16.3.2 Time charter

16.3.3 Bareboat charter  

16.4 Allocation of costs  

16.5 List of charterparty terms

16.6 Master’s best practices

16.6.1 Master as representative of the shipowner  

16.6.2 Master and charterer  

Chapter 17: Shipowner’s and charterer’s risks and responsibilities  

17.1 Introduction

17.2 Risks  

17.2.1 Master’s risks

17.2.2 The charterer’s risks  

17.2.3 The shipowner’s risks  

17.3 Responsibilities

17.3.1 Responsibilities of the Master

17.3.2 The charterer’s responsibilities

17.3.3 Responsibilities of the shipowner  

17.4 Master’s best practices

Chapter 18: Laytime and demurrage  

18.1 Introduction

18.2 Laytime

18.2.1 Defining laytime

18.2.2 Other relevant terms  

18.3 Demurrage and despatch

18.3.1 Master’s role at laytime and demurrage

18.4 Master’s best practices

Chapter 19: Documentation  

19.1 Introduction

19.2 Notice of readiness  

19.2.1 Communication

19.2.2 Contents of the notice of readiness  

19.3 Paper bill of lading  

19.3.1 Bill of lading under international law  

19.3.2 Legitimacy of the bill of lading

19.4 Electronic bill of lading

19.5 Letter of indemnity

19.6 Mate’s receipt and tally

19.6.1 Mate’s receipt  

19.6.2 Tally  

19.7 Note of protest  

19.7.1 Submitting a note of protest

19.7.2 Letter of protest  

19.8 Waybills  

19.9 Signing of documents  

19.10 Master’s best practices

19.10.1 Notice of readiness  

19.10.2 Bill of lading

19.10.3 Letter of indemnity

19.10.4 Mate’s receipt and tally  

19.10.5 Note or letter of protest

Chapter 20: Cargo damage  

20.1 Introduction

20.2 Types of cargo damage  

20.2.1 Cargo damage during transit  

20.2.2 Cargo damage during loading and discharging  

20.3 Master, cargo damage and liability  

20.4 Master’s best practices  

Chapter 21: Ship damage by cargo or during cargo operations  

21.1 Introduction  

21.2 Types of damage to the ship from cargo

21.2.1 Applicable laws and regulations

21.2.2 Ship damage during loading or discharging operations

21.2.3 Ship damage from dangerous goods  

21.3 Master and ship damage by cargo  

21.3.1 Seaworthiness

21.3.2 Claim handling

21.4 Master’s best practices  


Appendix A Useful maritime abbreviations  

Appendix B International maritime agreements

Appendix C Examples of documents

Appendix D References  

Appendix E Glossary of maritime legal terms  



This practical guide to maritime law for Masters serves as a compass, both for seasoned Masters seeking to refresh their knowledge and those Masters who may be embarking on their very first voyage, guiding everyone through the legal intricacies that define our maritime world. 

Developed by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations (IFSMA), and a panel of experienced Masters and shipping company representatives, this guide offers practical insights and real-world examples that reflect current best practices for shipping companies and Masters alike, with particular emphasis on the commercial aspects that form a significant part of every Master’s responsibilities on board. 

Maritime law encompasses a wide range of subjects, from jurisdiction to cargo claims, from marine insurance to pollution regulations, and from collision liability to crew rights. With each passing year, new laws emerge, and existing regulations evolve, adding layers of complexity to an already intricate legal landscape. In this guide, Masters will gain a comprehensive understanding of their rights, responsibilities, and obligations under maritime law. From the start of a voyage to its end, this guide covers crucial legal responsibilities in areas such as ship documentation, contractual relationships, cargo carriage, crimes on board, dealing with local legal enforcement, and the international conventions that underpin the global maritime legal framework. 

Moreover, this guide bridges the gap between theory and practice by exploring practical, real-world scenarios commonly encountered by Masters at sea. It offers valuable guidance on how to approach legal issues effectively, highlighting best practices, and providing expert advice on managing legal risk and dispute resolution. By doing so, it empowers Masters to make informed decisions that uphold legal compliance while ensuring the safety of the crew, ship, environment and cargo, and discharging the Master’s responsibilities towards both the shipowner and the charterer or cargo interest. 

While this guide strives to offer a comprehensive overview on legal issues the Master may encounter, it is important to note that it does not replace the need for qualified legal counsel in complex matters. Maritime law is a vast and ever-evolving field, influenced by a multitude of international, regional, and national regulations. As such, when any uncertainty exists, it is advisable to request advice from the shipowner or seek professional advice when faced with intricate legal challenges beyond the scope of this guide.


1 Introducing the law

1.1 Introduction

In this guide, the ‘Master’ means the person in command of a ship. The Master has:

• Tasks;

• Responsibilities;

• Authorities;

• Rights; and

• Obligations.

The Master is sometimes referred to as the Master Mariner, Shipmaster, Captain, Commander or Skipper, but in this guide the term ‘Master’ is used for consistency.

The Master fulfils a complicated legal position under international law. They and the ship sail through international waters and the national waters of countries which are subject to different laws and regulations.

The Master has different responsibilities under the law to the shipowner, who the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (ISM Code) defines as “the owner of the ship, or another organisation or person such as the manager or the bareboat charterer who has assumed responsibility for the operation of the ship from the shipowner, and who, on assuming such responsibility, has agreed to take over all the duties and responsibilities imposed by the Code”.

Because of the increasing number of legal incidents and the criminalisation of seafarers in general and the Master in particular, the latter should be aware of which laws and regulations apply to the ship as it sails through the waters of different countries or calls at their ports during its voyage.

This guide describes the Master’s legal position under international and national maritime law as well as in relation to their contractual obligations. It provides the Master with guidance and best practice in maritime law.

This chapter introduces the subject of law from the perspective of the Master and acts as an introduction to the chapters that follow.