The terms "ships" and "shipping," refer to the rights, duties, and liabilities pertaining to the use of navigable waters for the transportation of persons or property by ships, either commercially or noncommercially. Maritime law is established by Congress, and there are various enactments relative to authority and control of maritime matters. Federal statutes also provide for registry, enrollment, and licensing of ships, transfers of ownership, inspection and regulation of passenger and cargo shipping, and port entry regulations. Penalties and forfeitures are also provided for violations of those provisions.
A contract for the construction of a ship is not governed by admiralty law but by the principles applicable to contracts generally. However, a contract to supply or equip a ship after it has been placed in service is a maritime contract, and is treated under admiralty law. The federal government regulates the method and type of construction that may be used on a ship that is to be used in interstate commerce.
Common carriers may adopt regulations that are reasonably necessary for the conduct of their business as common carriers, such as the time, place, method, and form for receiving goods. An agreement for the transport of property need not be in writing, but such an agreement is ordinarily contained in a shipping receipt or bill of lading, together with operative tariffs and schedules. The carrier entering the agreement may employ a subordinate agency or carrier, although the original carrier normally remains liable for damage to the property carried.
A charter party or chartering agreement is an agreement by which an entire ship, or a main part of the ship, is hired out by the owner. Charters may be one of freight capacity, or of the entire ship, including the charterer's right to use the charterer's own crew. The former is a contract for special services, while the latter is an agreement to lease a ship.
A ship may be liable to a passenger for damages suffered by the ship's deviation in route, unless the deviation is caused by accident or force of nature. The ship may also be liable for the failure to sail as scheduled. Unless specific damages can be proved, only the cost of the passenger's fare is owed. The ship owners may enact and enforce reasonable rules for the conduct of passengers, and has a right to remove a passenger from the ship for violating such rules. Ships are generally required to provide medical attention for passengers.