Admiralty law or maritime law is a distinct body of law that governs maritime questions and offenses. It is a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private entities that operate vessels on the oceans. It deals with matters including marine commerce, marine navigation, marine salvaging, shipping, sailors, and the transportation of passengers and goods by sea. Admiralty law also covers many commercial activities, although land based or occurring wholly on land, that are maritime in character.
In most developed nations, maritime law is governed by a separate code and is a separate jurisdiction from national laws. The United Nations, through the International Maritime Organization, has issued numerous conventions that can be enforced by the navies and coast guards that have signed the treaty outlining these rules. Maritime law governs many of the insurance claims relating to ships and cargo, civil matters between shipowners, seamen and passengers, and piracy.
The terms admiralty and maritime law are sometimes used interchangeably, but admiralty originally referred to a specific court in England and the American colonies that had jurisdiction over torts and contracts on the high seas, whereas substantive maritime law developed through the expansion of admiralty court jurisdiction to include all activities on the high seas and similar activities on Navigable Waters.
This area of the law deals with a variety of factual scenarios. Examples include commercial accidents resulting in damage to vessels and cargo, seamen injuries, and hazardous material spills. Maritime law can also apply to piracy and criminal activity, liens against a ship, wake damage, and towage contracts. Furthermore, in an increasing number of cases, jurisdiction has been upheld in recreational boating accidents that occur on navigable waters.