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What does "Seaworthy" Mean?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term “seaworthy” is used to describe a boat or ship which is considered fit for the conditions which it may encounter while underway. At a minimum, a craft is seaworthy if it won't sink, but seaworthiness can get very complex, and it can depend on a number of factors. For passengers, it is understandable to want to know whether or not a craft is seaworthy, but shippers, insurance companies, and the owners of the ship also need to know how prepared it is for a journey.

Seaworthiness encompasses the obvious physical condition of a ship and its fittings, along with the number of crew on board, and the loading of the cargo. A ship can be in excellent physical condition with working equipment and still be unseaworthy because it is overladen, or because the crew is not big enough or experienced enough. Physical design is also an issue, as some configurations are more seaworthy than others.

Another consideration is the type of trip the ship is making. Navigating a river is obviously very different than making one's way across the open ocean, and therefore the conditions which the ship may encounter should be considered. A sailboat fit for conditions in the Caribbean may not be prepared for icy arctic waters, and likewise, a riverboat may not be safe for use on the Great Lakes.

One of the standards which is often used to determine if a ship is seaworthy is considering whether or not the owner of the ship would allow it to sail as-is. If the owner would express doubts or a desire to remedy certain issues on board, the ship is not seaworthy. Insurance companies, which do not want to rely on the owner alone, may send out an assessor to establish seaworthiness before providing insurance to the ship's owner or the company which has a contract for use of the ship.

In addition to boats, the term is also sometimes applied to members of the crew. People who are not fully trained for their positions are not seaworthy, and the same holds true for injured, sick, or severely disabled sailors who are not capable of doing their jobs. For this reason, many seamen are required to receive medical examinations and certificates indicating that they can safely do their jobs. The same requirement is made of pilots, with the goal of ensuring the safety of craft, cargo, and passengers.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By stl156 — On Dec 30, 2011

@titans62 - I think that it is up to the person operating the boat in order to decide.

If it is a controlled attempt to operate the un-seaworthy vessel, then the person could simply get in the other boat and to safety if it could not make it to where they are going.

However, a question arises as to what happens if the boat sinks on the way to the desired place to create the reef. If this were to happen then they would have to either leave it there, where a reef is not wanted, or they would have to bring the boat up to the surface and create a lot of trouble and effort.

I am personally not a fan of when people try to make a reef like this and think that the boat should be towed out to the water then unattached and sunk. Un-seaworthy vessels can still have a purpose and provide good things, but not when un-seaworthy people try to make these reefs.

By titans62 — On Dec 29, 2011

The main purpose of a boat is that it is able to float. If the boat does not have the ability to float then it is not seaworthy and should never be taken out on open water.

Sometimes boats that are not seaworthy are taken out on the water for a short distance, then sunk in order to create a reef, but I even question when they do this.

I have heard stories of people quick fixing boats that are undesirable and not actually seaworthy, just trying to get them out on the water a short distance so it could be sunk to create a reef.

When this occurs another boat goes out with them in order to take them back to shore, but when someone tried this there is absolutely no guarantee that the boat will even make it that far.

I still think the best way to make a reef out of an un-seaworthy vessel is to either tow it with a larger ship and then sink it or to simply not use it for a reef and just scrap it for parts or whatever can be taken from it.

By jcraig — On Dec 28, 2011

@JimmyT - You are absolutely correct. I would think that the sailors would be very insecure on a boat that they thought was going to sink and questioned whether or not it was actually seaworthy.

It may seem very simple, but just the fact of the boat being able to stay afloat is a very important detail to know as no one wants to be stranded out on the ocean and they want to make sure they return to shore.

Vessels that are not seaworthy, should never be taken out on the open ocean for fear that they could lead to the deaths of the sailors and that the boat would not serve its main purpose, which is to stay afloat and allow for safe travel to and return to the shore.

By JimmyT — On Dec 27, 2011

I live in the Midwest and the only times that I ever hear whether or not something is seaworthy is when I am fishing in a pond with a very flimsy boat that does not seem to have any chance of floating.

Usually when this happens someone I always get in the boat with will question whether or not the boat is actually seaworthy and if it is safe for travel in the pond.

I cannot imagine how bad it would be to be sailing in a boat that was not seaworthy out in the ocean. I would think that there would be a lot less of a sense of security among the sailors questioning whether or not their boat would wreck on the open sea as opposed to in a small pond, where someone could just swim a short distance to the bank.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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