What Is a Vessel?: Implications for Marine Finance, Marine Insurance, and Admiralty Jurisdiction

Article by Stewart F. Peck & David B. Sharpe

Just over two years ago, the United States Supreme Court decided Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, ruling that a floating home was not a “vessel”—statutorily defined as including “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water”—and was not, therefore, subject to a city marina’s maritime liens or the district court’s admiralty jurisdiction. The Court in Lozman narrowed and refined its prior holding in Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co. as to what constitutes a vessel. Certain lower courts after Stewart had taken the notion “capable of being used for transportation” from Stewart and conflated it to “anything that floats.”  The Court in Lozman looked to the Rules of Construction Act and determined that it was necessary to eliminate and avoid subjective intent and elements in the determination of what constitutes a vessel.  The Court’s proffered reason for formulating the criteria to be considered was to provide guidance in “a significant number of borderline cases”—cases in which “‘capacity’ to transport over water is in doubt.”  Instead of guidance, Lozman has created more uncertainty in borderline cases.


89 Tul. L. Rev. 1103 (2015)