Docked Ship With a GangplankAll vessel passengers and crew members begin and end their journeys the same way—by walking down the gangplank. Gangways are one of the most highly-used objects in maritime work, and unfortunately, this makes them a common factor in serious maritime injuries. The transition to a dock from tugboats, cruise ships, barges, ferries, fishing charters, rear other vessels boats can be a perilous journey, especially if the shipowner did not take proper precautions.

Slips and Falls Are the Most Common Type of Gangplank Accident

While maritime law requires shipowners and operators to provide passengers with reasonably safe means of ingress and egress to and from the ship, many passengers are injured each year while disembarking from ships. Maritime laws also require vessel owners to guarantee the seaworthiness of their vessel, and an injury from a defective gangplank or unsafe operating procedures could give rise to an unseaworthiness claim. In order to recover compensation, injured passengers will have to prove negligence on the part of the ship’s operator (such as when a vessel is not docked properly) or owner (such as when the gangway provided is not adequate to the function of the ship).

Shipowners may be held liable for gangplank injuries caused by:

  • Improper length or width. A gangway that is too short will force passengers to walk up or down a steeper slope, while a gangway that is too wide prevents passengers from using both sets of handrails for stability.
  • Faulty non-skid surfaces. Shipowners have a duty to equip their vessels with gangways that have adequate non-skid protections (such as anti-slip strips or ribs), as well as repairing or replacing these surfaces when they are worn from use.
  • Lack of handrails. Railings and stanchions are invaluable for preventing injury when a passenger loses his or her footing. Handrails should be of sufficient strength and height to hold a passenger when he or she requires support.
  • Obstructions and liquids. Gangways should be kept clear of any debris, cargo, or obstructions that could cause a tripping hazard. Crew members should also be instructed to keep the gangway as dry as possible and mop up any spills that could compromise traction.
  • Improper scouting or fastening. Captains have a duty to note the particular aspects of each pier or dock and identify any potential dockside hazards before passengers disembark. Once passengers are warned about potential hazards, the gangway should be secured at each end to prevent separation or movement.
  • Inadequate lighting. Inadequate lighting on a gangway or deck can cause a fall on vessels that depart early in the morning (such as fishing charters) or operate well into the night (such as ferries).
  • Floating docks. Floating docks are far less stable than elevated gangplanks, and can easily be affected by waves, rocking boats, and passenger movements. Captains should take extra precautions to prevent injury on floating docks, including positioning crew members shore side to assist passengers.
  • Miscalculated weight limits. Gangways are tested by manufacturers to withstand a certain amount of weight, and overloading or misevaluating the total load on the ramp can cause the gangway to collapse.

Injuries Suffered as a Result of Defective Ramps and Gangplanks

A slip or fall from a defective gangway can have disastrous or even fatal effects. A victim landing on the gangplank may sustain broken bones or a severe back injury, while a fall between vessels can result in a traumatic brain injury as the victim’s head collides with the dock. Unfortunately, a fall into the water may result in hypothermia injuries or drowning incidents, causing the wrongful death of a worker.

Our Experienced Attorneys Are Here To Help

If you or a loved one has been injured due to an improperly chosen or maintained gangway and have additional questions, our injury attorneys can determine who may be liable for your accident—and we do not charge anything until we win your case. Call (800) 362-9329 today to speak with a maritime lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights today.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.