Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Why the site is called Mariner Legal? Why am I starting Mariner Legal?

 What is a Mariner? 

    The last few weeks, as I have been opening my law office, I have pondered who my ideal cliental will be. Starting off, I know I will need to be somewhat of a "thresh hold" lawyer practicing "door law."  But my goal for my law office is to primarily serve mariners and the maritime industry. This lead me to the question, What is a mariner? And the past few days, I have probably spent way too much time thinking about this question as I sat down on multiple occasions to write this post. Having graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, where the sports teams are referred to as the Mariners, I was initially inclined to define the term mariner as "an individual who makes their living upon the sea".  But as I pondered what a mariner is and viewed it in the context of who I want to provide legal services to, my definition would need to encompass more individuals than my initial definition seemed to allow. As I tried to refine my definition of mariner to cover more individuals, the definition became long and cumbersome. Being a lawyer, I decided to research legal authority to see how the law answered my question. So, the first place I looked to was the Revised Fourth Edition of Black's Law Dictionary, which I received as a gift from my good friend Michele Guglietti. 

The Revised Fourth Edition of Black's Law Dictionary defines a Mariner as:

A seaman or sailor; one engaged in navigating vessels upon the sea; every person employed aboard ships or vessels.

   But as I read more legal authority from across our country and others, I concluded that for the purpose of the maritime law topics I plan to address on this website, a formal definition of the word mariner does not matter that much. I guess I envisioned mariners as those many individuals who rely on the sea, not only for work but also for pleasure, leisure, and adventure. Is it a stretch for me to identify more individuals as mariners than a strict definition might afford. Maybe? When it comes to this website, there will be times I address legal issues that apply to the maritime industry in a broader context and therefore applicable to more individuals. There will also be occasions where the topic I address is applicable to a more defined set of individuals. But as long as my posts are clear as to who is impacted by the maritime law topic I am writing about; a formal definition of mariner is probably not necessary for readers of this website. Whether it be a salvor, charter captain, deck hand, fisherman, recreational boater, dock master, sailor or marine engineer, for my purposes it does not matter whether they meet the legal definition of the term mariner.  As I write and discuss various topics in the future, I will attempt to identify impacted categories of individuals when appropriate. 

So, who do I hope to reach with my posts on Mariner Legal?     

Individuals who make their living from the sea and improve their lives through recreation upon it. 

    Since 71% of the earth is water-covered, this might be a large target audience. But this is my target audience. And having known many mariners, commercial and recreational, I know this target audience is small. But this is the group of individuals I wish to help in resolving their legal issues.

Why am I starting Mariner Legal?

    Upon reflection, it is a long story. But the short answer is that I am starting this website to promote my law office: The Law Office of Samuel C Higginbottom.  My law office's web address is:, and there should also be a link to my website under my profile. This website will involve me, a mariner, writing mostly legal musings, which is partially how I came up with the name Mariner Legal. If you don't want to hear the long story stop reading now.  

    So here is the long story: 

    The summer of 1992 my parents shipped me down to Miami, Florida to stay with my paternal grandparents. I was never sure why I was the one to be shipped off, but that summer I have a feeling it was because my mother was pregnant with my youngest brother, who would be the sixth child in the family. My grandfather was still active in the Miami business community, but when family was in town, he would prioritize time with us. While visiting, we would frequently go fishing on the boat named after my grandmother, the Fair One IV. In retrospect, some of my favorite childhood memories were times spent fishing with my grandparents. Even though many years have passed, when my siblings, cousins, and I get together we often share exaggerated stories of my grandfather's sternness when it came to discipline on his boat. That summer, I was to eventually be joined by my Aunt Fair, and Aunt Row, Uncle Al, and cousins Maxine and Fair who were going to meet us in Key Largo. 

    The Fair One IV was docked in Miami, and my grandfather planned for us to motor to Key Largo prior to my aunts, uncle, and cousins arriving in town. Unfortunately, my grandfather had a last-minute meeting spring up.  So, he hired a local captain to motor the boat from Miami to Key Largo with me.  Keep in mind that I was 8 at the time. The burley captain, who I recall speaking broken English, smoking constantly, and enjoying a few beers on that voyage; showed up early at my grandfather's Miami home ready to go.  My grandfather prepared a lunch cooler for the trip and sent us on our way. I didn't know this burley captain at all, and I really don't know how my grandfather knew him. To say the least, I was set off on an adventure. An adventure as an individual improving his live through recreation upon the sea. An adventure with an individual who made their living from the sea. 

    In my mind, we were two mariners setting off on a grand voyage. The trip was mostly unremarkable, and I hardly remember it except for it being long.  But the key phrase is mostly. During the middle of the voyage while we were eating the lunch packed by my grandfather, the burley captain sprang up and shouted some foreign words, that were most likely curse words. He then exclaimed that "if we hurry, we can still make the short cut!"  Guess what?  We did not make the short cut because the tide was out and sea too low. We ran aground near a long bridge.  The burley captain was not too happy. At the time, I thought it was because he was sure we should have made it. But having now dealt with cases involving the maritime law of salvage, he probably had some financial reasons not to be happy as well. 

    Instead of calling the Coast Guard, Sea Tow, or anyone to help get us back afloat. He pulled out a wooden shaft gaff.  He used it to measure the depth of the water. He then used it to compare the depth of the water to my height. He then turned to me and asked my weight.  After a few minutes, he came up with a plan he was convinced would float the Fair One IV and get us back underway.  His plan was for me to put on a life-vest, tie a few other life-vest to the cooler, tie a line from the boat to me, then the line from me to the cooler, and for me to jump overboard with the cooler.  He was convinced The Fair One IV would float free and I could push it the few hundred feet to deeper water. I was 8 and didn't know any better. So, we strapped life-vests to the cooler.  I put on a life-vest and tied a line from the cooler to me. We then tied a line from me to the boat.  The cooler was lowered overboard.  I was then lowered overboard. The Fair One IV did seem to float a little higher and I pushed her into deeper water. In hindsight the thought of this sounds crazy and extremely dangerous, but it worked.  And thankfully, once the water got a little deeper, the burley captain pulled the cooler and eventually me in. He then jumped into the water to push the boat a little deeper to make sure it was safe to get underway under the vessel's own power. We eventually made it to Key Largo. But it was this trip, where I first remember knowing I wanted to make my living from the sea.

    During the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I was tasked with identifying colleges to attend. I was quickly remined that I would have to pay for college myself, which coincided with telling my parents I wanted to study marine biology.  But then again, maybe it was because I was one of seven. This limited my search to ROTC programs and the Federal academies.  My older brother was at the Naval Academy at the time.  He and a few friends came home for a long weekend while on their summer cruises.  One of those friends just happened to be a midshipman at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. During this chance meeting, I learned there was five Federal academies and about the existence of the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  After some quick research, I knew I was going to be a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  I was going to be a mariner.  I was so confident I was going to be accepted, get a congressional nomination to attend, and pass all the medical, that I argued with my parents when urged to apply to other universities. I eventually applied to two other colleges, because I qualified for an ROTC scholarship. But mostly to make my parents happy.

    I attended and graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  Like many graduates, I have several sea stories. Some of which I might share in the future. And like many graduates, the sea calls and the winds of opportunity blow us toward various careers and vocations.  For me it was eventually law school and the practice of law. My first job as an attorney was with the Admiralty and Maritime practice group of a Tampa, Florida law firm. It was great to have the opportunity to primarily serve various mariners and stakeholders in the maritime industries.  After a few years, the winds of opportunity blew again. I joined the Tampa office of a large Philadelphia law firm as an insurance and injury defense attorney. I learned so much with this firm. And I eventually became a shareholder representing some of the world’s largest insurance companies. Some questioned my walking away from this firm to start my own law office, but I felt the winds of opportunity blowing and the sea calling. While my sailing days are long behind me, when the sea calls; you answer. As many mariners will attest.  For me the answer was to once again focus my law practice on serving mariners and the maritime industry by founding my own law office. So, I opened the Law Office of Samuel C Higginbottom to provide legal services to those individuals who make their living from the sea, and those individuals who improve their lives through recreation upon it. 


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