Here there are short excerpts of the answers provided to customers over the last year.


on the duty to render ASSISTANCE

An answer to the question that you might like was Lord Cockburn C.J.'s in the Scaramanga v. Stampcase, the first judgment where assistance at sea was seen as obligation. Beautifully as the British mind abhors and distrusts abstraction, this judgment was pronounced in a case regarding if a deviation either by going out of course, or by delaying, for the purpose of communicating with a ship in distress, was unlawful or allowable:

"The impulsive desire to save human life when in peril is one of the most beneficial instincts of humanity, and is nowhere more salutary in its results than in bringing help to those who, exposed to destruction from the fury of winds and waves, would perish if left without assistance. To all who have to trust themselves to the sea, it is of the utmost importance that the promptings of humanity in this respect should not be checked or interfered with by prudential considerations as to injurious consequences, which may result to a ship or cargo from the rendering of the needed aid. It would be against the common good, and shocking to the sentiments of mankind, that the shipowner should be deterred from endeavouring to save life by the fear, lest any disaster to ship or cargo, consequent on so doing, should fall on himself. Yet it would be unjust to expect that he should be called upon to satisfy the call of humanity at his own entire risk."

The case of Scaramanga v Stamp concerned the steamship Olympias, chartered to carry a cargo of wheat from Cronstadt to Gibraltar. "... When nine days out, the Olympias sighted another steamship, the Arion, in distress, and, on nearing her, found that the machinery of the Arion had broken down, and that the vessel was in a helpless condition. The weather was fine and the sea smooth, and there would have been no difficulty in taking off and so saving the crew; but the master of the Arion, being desirous of saving his ship, as well as the lives of his crew, agreed to pay 1000l. to the master of the Olympias to tow the ship into the Texel.
Having taken the Arion in tow, the Olympias, when off the Dutch coast, on the way to the Texel, got ashore on the Terschelling Sands, and with her cargo was ultimately lost.

On the reasons of the duty to Render assistance

Mark R.:
But I struggle to imagine why I shouldn't be liable for costs from my own errors. I'm inviting you to give me reasons why

Hi Mark,

We should blame free rescues on Common Law! I agree that liberty asks for responsibility. However, the voluntary assumption of risk is not in contradiction with the duty to assist and rescue those in peril at sea. The voluntary assumption of risks was a defence in Roman Law ("Volenti non fit iniuria" in Latin translates into "to a willing person, injury is not done") that evolved into a common law doctrine which that upholds that if someone willingly places themselves in a position where harm might result, they will not be able to bring a claim against the other party in tort or delict.

However, while there is a degree of negligence in many incidents, no activity on the sea is free from a measure of risk. Think that still in the mid-19th century, one British mariner in five died at sea, and mortality among sailors was higher than in any other occupation. I do not see here a vested interest in the protection of the interests of the merchant navy, as there is in the rewards for marine salvage, but a moral obligation that passed into customary law, then into the Common Law, and was finally codified in international treaties, such as the SOLAS and Law of the Sea Conventions.

As things go, it would be hard to charge victims rescued by the SAR services regardless of how recklessly they put themselves in danger. While masters —kayakers fall in that division in some international treaties— are bound to render assistance to those in peril at sea; the Coastal States have a positive duty to rescue that stems from international treaties (UNCLOS article 98, S.A.R. Chapter V, Regulation 15, Regulation 2(1)(10) of the Annex, SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 7, and Regulation 15(a)) that ask them to undertake any necessary arrangements for the rescue of persons in distress at sea round its coasts. There is a legal distinction here on the subject of the duty to rescue being persons regardless of them being ever aboard of a ship, that would raise obstacles to any intention to make negligent victims to reimburse the expenses and costs of a rescue, while no such obstacles exists to attempt the same on land.

On the other hand, we do not exactly pay the rescue services through taxes: Taxes are forcibly levied by the State, and the State is bound by treaties with other States to provide rescue services for a cost that I would deem a very tiny portion of the taxes raised. The reasonableness of any costs incurred might be discussed depending of the value placed on a single human life, but the benefits of the duty of assistance and rescue lie in not discouraging useful conducts. 

As regards to Lord Cockburn C.J.'s answer in the Scaramanga v. Stampcase, here it is the full judgement. It makes good reading.

All the best,



on the costs of assistance to life at sea

Rendering assistance at sea is an exception to the obligations in a charterparty as if the goods had been lost by perils of the sea. If the arrival of a cargo is delayed or even lost, the shipowner -real or through a charter- is not liable to the goods owner. There is not any compensation but only eventually through insurance or through a potential reward if by providing aid which is essentially free, the ship in distress or its cargo were salvaged.

Not only the search and rescue services, but the master of the ship in distress has a right to requisition any ship available. This right stems from Regulation 33.2 of Chapter V of the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Convention of 1/7/02:

"2 The master of a ship in distress or the search and rescue service concerned, after consultation, so far as may be possible, with the masters of ships which answer the distress alert, has the right to requisition one or more of those
ships as the master of the ship in distress or the search and rescue service considers best able to render assistance, and it shall be the duty of the master or masters of the ship or ships requisitioned to comply with the requisition by continuing to proceed with all speed to the assistance of persons in distress".

However, regulation 33 applies to all ships, regardless of tonnage and waters of operation. According to regulation 3.3 of Chapter V of the Solas Convention, "All ships" means any ship, vessel or craft irrespective of type and purpose. To this effect, a kayak is a ship, and the paddler is its master.



on salvage rewards

The Lloyds Open Form does not grant literally the right to claim a high percentage of ship and cargo. The form is named open because it is literally so: The sum to be paid is determined later in London by a professional arbitrator, invariably a Queen's Counsel practising at the Admiralty Bar, appointed by the Salvage Arbitration Branch of Lloyds, that follow the English law of civil salvage, who determines the salvage award. The value of the ship, its cargo and freight at risk are taken into account when the arbitrator decides what the award should be, together with the extent of the dangers and the difficulty in effecting the salvage.
There are however more advantageous clauses for salvage procedures but well, do not expect a master to talk a salvage company into agreeing with them when evertything is going pear shaped. The hazards and legal liabilities that salvagers take are astronomical. That is why LOF works well. It defers the extent of any salvage award.

On the duty to provide shelter

I have heard of similar incidents in Spain. You could have asked to see the manager, then ask him to log his refusal to give you shelter. According to International Law a port may not refuse entry to a vessel in distress as it is a part of the right of innocent passage (article 18 UNCLOS), and I am confident that providing shelter for a casualty is in fact part of every port state’s obligations in the United Kingdom. Whatever the statutes of the Marina operator, they do not override the obligation to provide a port of refuge. As much as a port or marina might want to regulate access, when a ship or boat is in distress, customary law again clearly allows entry to port if human life is threatened.

Would I be in your place, I'd complain both to Brighton Marina and the MCA. Throw them this: High Court (Admiralty) (Ireland), 7 February 1995, M/V Toledo, ILRM, 1995, 30.

The weather is like the government, always in the wrong.
— Jerome K. Jerome