Deckhands play an important role on ships of all types. Their duties are varied, but crucial to the functioning of the ship. Exactly what a deckhand does depends on whether the work is done aboard a commercial shipping vessel, a fishing boat, a tugboat, a dredger, or any other type of ship. Generally, though, these workers are responsible for general maintenance and cleaning duties.
The work of a deckhand is fraught with risks, as are many jobs aboard ships. Because deckhands work on the deck, they are especially susceptible to slips and falls, and they are vulnerable to falling overboard. If you work as a deckhand and sustained an injury on the job, you are entitled to monetary compensation to cover the costs of medical treatment and lost wages while you can’t work. If you are being denied that compensation let an experienced maritime attorney get you the money you deserve.
The Duties of a Deckhand
As a deckhand you may be expected to perform a variety of duties aboard the ship, regardless of the type of ship. The deckhands, for instance, on any ship are expected to be up on deck as the ship leaves or comes into port. They are responsible for handling the lines and assisting dock workers in getting the ship off or tying it up in port. Deckhands are also generally responsible for cleaning the deck of a ship. This means using mops, brooms, brushes, and even hoses to keep the deck clean and dry.
A deckhand may be responsible for lowering lifeboats during an abandon ship situation. He or she may also be asked to be a lookout for steering in dangerous waters. General maintenance of the ship also falls to deckhands. This includes painting the ship, deck, and lifeboats, lubricating equipment, and maintaining ropes and cables. A deckhand may also keep watch on the deck for safety violations. In addition to these general duties, deckhands may have jobs specific to a type of ship, including maintain or operate winches and lines on fishing vessels, or helping passengers on ferry boats.
Dangers and Accidents
The nature of the work on the deck of a ship is dangerous. A deckhand needs to be physically fit and agile to maneuver the often-crowded deck of a ship and to do the regular duties expected of him or her. These workers also need to be comfortable working in varied weather conditions and prepared to do physically-demanding work over long hours.
The physical demands of the job can present dangers including repetitive stress injuries, pulled muscles, back injuries, and accidents caused by fatigue from working hard for hours on end. Operating equipment also presents risks for deckhands. Improperly maintained equipment or lack of training in how to use it can cause accidents and injuries. Poor safety training or a lack of safety equipment can also cause deckhands to become injured during accidents.
Deckhands are particularly vulnerable to the kinds of accidents that happen on the deck of a ship. For instance, deckhands have to maneuver quickly around equipment and other things on the deck and can easily fall or trip and incur injuries like bruises, cuts, or broken bones. Deckhands also must be able to maintain good balance and are at risk of falling overboard during a collision, during rough weather, or when debris on the deck causes a slip or trip. Working on deck also means being exposed to harsh weather conditions and these workers are vulnerable to hypothermia as a result.
Examples of Deckhand Accidents
News stories describe some of the unfortunate incidents that occur with deckhands aboard ships. Some of these accidents cause injuries, while others can lead to tragic fatalities. One such incident occurred in 2001 in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. A tugboat deckhand, who was 45 years old and experienced on the job, drowned when the boat capsized and sank. Crew members had only a quick warning from the captain before the boat went down. The captain tried to pull the deckhand from the galley, but couldn’t keep a grip on him and the unfortunate worker went down with the boat. He was presumed drowned at the time the story was reported and the captain was under investigation. It was thought that some error of judgment on his part caused the capsizing.
In another scary incident, a deckhand was crushed, but recovered from serious injuries. The barge deckhand got trapped between the barge and a Mississippi dam wall in Red Wing, Minnesota in 2014. The deckhand got stuck when the ship was making its way through a lock. The barge was tied to the side of the lock, waiting for a tugboat to come and move it when the man somehow got wedged in place and crushed. Even though he had some serious injuries, he was able to crawl aboard the barge so he could be rescued and treated.
In 2013, a deckhand working aboard a ship in Wisconsin was injured when the ship experienced a collision. The deckhand was handling a wire at the time of the collision and the violence of the jolt caused it to be torn from his hand. The incident caused serious arm, shoulder, and hand injuries and resulted in the man being unable to work at the same job again. The blame in this case was placed on the captain of the ship for colliding so violently with a tug boat and for not warning deckhands that the collision was coming.
Sometimes it is the equipment on board a ship that leads to accidents for deckhands. In one terrible situation aboard an Elizabeth river ferry in Virginia in 2013, a deckhand got her hair caught in machinery. The worker had been checking bilge pumps late at night. Although she survived, the worker suffered serious injuries. She should have been trained to keep her hair back when working with equipment in which it could get tangled. All of these examples show how even experienced deckhands can be injured on the job, and that in most cases these accidents are preventable. Better training, better communication, and better safety gear could have prevented all of these injuries.
Rights for Injured Maritime Workers
The examples of injuries and fatalities to deckhands illustrate the risks of the job and how negligence can play a role. Even when no one is at fault for such incidents, deckhands are maritime workers and that means they are entitled to some amount of compensation for the cost of medical care and for any lost wages while unable to work. Proper maintenance of ship equipment, adequate training, and good judgment by all crew members can prevent tragic accidents. When these things are neglected, negligence is at work and injured deckhands may be able to demand more compensation under maritime laws like the Jones Act.
If you have experienced an injury on the job working as a deckhand you need to know what your rights are. Navigating maritime law can be confusing, especially if your employer is denying you compensation. You can rely on the expertise of maritime lawyers to help you determine what compensation would be adequate and how to claim it under the right laws. If you have lost a loved one to this job, you also have rights and a lawyer can guide you through the process of realizing them.