We had discussed at some length the Seaman Manslaughter Act in connection with the California dive boat tragedy, and how mere negligence could result in a conviction. The CONCEPTION fire and sinking with great loss of life, has resulted in such a case.
But the Act has its limitations, and two examples of this are recent. You'll recall the Duck boat sinking in the Lake of the Ozarks/ Table Rock, when a squall overcame it. One of the limitations in prosecuting under the Act is that, as a federal statute, it did not apply to this sinking, as Table Rock Lake was ruled not to be a "water of the United States", hence Federal Admiralty law, and the Statute, did not apply:
Another limit on the Act's jurisdiction is noncommercial sailing or navigation. Remember the thread we had about a year ago, where a sailboat captain moving his charter boat from Maine to USVI was charged and went to trial in St. Thomas? He was tried in the Federal Court under the Act for not doing enough to react and search after an unruly and arguably delusional crewmember jumped overboard at sea during the delivery.
As soon as the prosecution had finished presenting evidence and rested their case, defense counsel moved for acquittal, since there were no paying passengers, and no commercial cargo involved in the voyage. The federal judge granted the motion for a judgement of acquittal, based on lack of jurisdiction over this situation, a long but essentially "pleasure" trip:
I had wondered at first why defense counsel didn't move for dismissal before trial, rather wait til mid-trial. Then my training kicked in and I realized what a tactically brilliant move it had been. Once you're acquitted, there's no appeal. But if it's a dismissal before trial (before "jeopardy has attached" in legal parlance), that finding could have been appealed by the prosecution, and theoretically overturned the Federal Appeals Court and sent it back "down" for trial.
So--- there are both "activity" and "location" limits to the Statute. But please don't have to rely on them to get you off the hook after something awful resulting in death happens while sailing, okay? Just be safe, and all this will remain academic. Thanks