US Maritime Law used to be vague when it came to defining the term seaman. At first, a person can only be considered as a seaman if he passes two requirements, namely establishing a connection to a water vessel in navigation and a role in that vessel which can be considered as an aid to navigation. In the past, if you are a painter of the sea vessel or watercraft, you will not be considered as a seaman. This means that you will not really be able to secure protection from maritime laws. Fortunately, throughout the years, the Supreme Court of the United States has started to use the term to encompass all ship workers.
In recent years, decisions by the Supreme Court concerning Maritime Law have expounded the definition of seaman. In case of McDermott International vs. Wilander, the court decided that a person can be considered as a seaman even if his duties or responsibilities do not involve functions related to transportation. This means that you can be given a seaman status and privilege for as long as your role contributes to the function of the watercraft or vessel or to the accomplishment of the vessel's mission. Subsequent court decisions also made it clear that an individual who spends not more than 30% of his work time in a watercraft cannot be considered as a seaman under the Jones Act. Thus, even if your role in a ship is very important but you are only spending 10% of your time onboard, then you are still considered as a land-based worker and not entitled to the rights and privileges of a seaman.
If you want to enjoy the rights under the Maritime Law, it is very important that you are considered as a seaman. Some of the forms of protection available to a person with a seaman status include the right to unearned wages, to cure and maintenance, to recover damages incurred in the watercraft or compensation for injuries caused by the un-seaworthiness of the watercraft, and to claim for negligence committed by owner or employer.
Meanwhile, the responsibilities of a seaman (particularly one in an entry level position) include maintenance, cleaning, watch-standing roles, knot-making, rigging, tying down the vessel, and other related responsibilities. Again, in order for you to have protection under the Maritime Law, it is important that you know your status in the vessel where you work.