Capsized and Sinking Vessels

Travel at sea is fraught with danger. In light of this, there are a number of requirements for vessel safety imposed on those in the maritime business. These range from meeting specifications on equipment, honoring navigational rules, and more. Despite taking precautions, ships still sink at sea. Oftentimes, weather is a contributing factor.

Below is a summary of the most common causes of ships capsizing and sinking. Capsizing occurs when a ship rolls onto its side or completely rolls over. The larger a ship is, the less likely it is to capsize. Yet, even big ships have capsized. If ships take on too much water after capsizing, the water taken in can cause a ship to sink.

Adverse Weather

Bad weather is responsible for contributing to a large number of capsized and sunken ships. Sophisticated navigational systems are readily available today that are far better than old technology. These systems can reduce the chance of a vessel hitting bad weather unexpectedly. With advanced warning, vessels can often steer clear of the worst weather. Sometimes, the weather changes unexpectedly and it is simply not possible to outmaneuver all storms.

When ships encounter storms, rough water and wind combine to make steering difficult. If a ship is broadsided by big waves, then it can be destabilized. This is unlikely to be the sole reason for a ship to capsize. When a ship capsizes, one or more additional contributing factors are usually present.

Uneven Weight Distribution

Ships are designed to be stable under conditions of anticipated use. When weight is added to a ship, either from people, water, or cargo, then in order for a vessel to remain stable, the weight must be evenly distributed below deck. In addition, the greatest amount of weight should be below deck. If either of these conditions of weight distribution is not sufficiently met, then the risk of capsizing is greatly increased.

Collisions and Other Impacts

Navigational systems combined with navigational rules serve to make collisions between ships and objects, such as docks, rocks, and reefs, unlikely. Risks of ships colliding are greatest in ports where traffic causes ships to navigate in close proximity. The risk of collisions is exacerbated if there is poor visibility, such as fog or at night.


Ships are required to be designed and maintained so that they are and remain seaworthy. Regular inspection, maintenance, and repair of safety-critical equipment is needed to ensure seaworthiness. Problems that arise from failing to take these reasonable precautions include taking on unsafe amounts of water, losing navigational controls, or even fires and explosions.


Failure to take adequate precaution can cause or contribute to situations where a ship capsizes or sinks. Examples of negligence include:

  • Loading cargo so the weight is unevenly distributed, or the load is not secured
  • Deciding to go too fast for conditions, to travel in unsafe conditions, or making other errors in judgement having to do with navigation
  • Working under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which is known to impair judgment
  • Failing to inspect onboard equipment to ensure it is free of damage or defects

Cape May Maritime Accident Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for Those Injured at Sea

If you or someone you know was injured at sea, contact one of our experienced Cape May maritime accident lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. today. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cape May and Wildwood. Call us at 888-999-1962 or submit an online form to schedule a free consultation.