The Seaman as Ward of the Admiralty

The seaman has a peculiar status in American law. He is in most instances a mature individual, sui juris, and therefore capable of entering into his own contracts but nonetheless his contractual dealings with shipmasters and owners are as carefully watched by our admiralty courts as though he were a minor or a young heir. He is in contemplation of the maritime law a ward of the admiralty courts.

The seaman’s position in a legal and economic sense is unique. Singled out by the Congress of the United States as one of a class of workers requiring special consideration and treatment, he has long been regarded in admiralty as improvident and incapable of protecting his rights. After almost a century and a half this fundamental concept of the merchant seaman has not been materially altered by the courts.