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Maryland Maritime Law: A Discussion on the Current State of the Law

The most recent Maryland Court of Appeals case discussing whether Maritime Law applies can be found in Matthews v. Howell, 359 Md. 152, 753 A.2d 69 (2000).

Facts: Four friends boarded a boat and traveled to a bar. After consuming a variety of alcoholic drinks, the friends returned to the boat and headed back to the marina. On the way back, the conditions worsened (wind increased, water was choppy, and it was dark). While traversing the Chesapeake Bay, the captain (one of the four friends), abruptly throttled back, thereby slowing the boat, but did not anchor. The captain announced that he wanted to take a swim, and dove into the Bay, jumping from the seat at the helm. Then, one of the four friends, Ms. Matthews, either fell or jumped into the water. Rescue attempts by the friends failed. The US Coast Guard and a helicopter could not locate Ms. Matthews. Two days later, Ms. Matthews’ fully clothed body was found. Cause of death was drowning.

Analysis:
• (1) Navigable waters of the US -Parties do not, and cannot dispute, that the Chesapeake Bay is a navigable waterway of the US
• (2) Whether the incident caused a potential hazard to maritime commerce –
-Boat was stopped in the middle of a major shipping waterway -Boat remained adrift during rescue efforts -The parties remained adrift in the area while search parties arrived -Search parties spent a great amount of time scouring the area of the navigable waterways for Ms. Matthews
-No evidence of disruption of maritime commerce, but travel by any other vessel through that portion of the Bay would have been restricted by the search effort • Whether the actions surrounding the incident bore a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity –
-Does not matter that the parties were not engaged in commercial shipping at the time -Under certain circumstances, the act of diving from a boat could bear a relationship to maritime activity -Unclear whether Ms. Matthews actually dove from the boat or fell into the water -Search effort by the Coast Guard is a traditional maritime activity -Broader view of “traditional maritime activity” – captain’s actions are lack of proper navigation; failure to manage, direct, and position his vessel properly
+Captain navigated the boat by stopping it and leaving it adrift in a major navigable waterway prior to diving from the boat
+He abandoned the helm without taking the proper precautions that maritime law requires
+Failed to assist in the rescue of a woman overboard from his vessel
Holding: Maritime law applies to the facts and allegations of this case.

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