HomeMaritime Law MiscellanyHistorical DocumentsLaws of the Hanse Towns

The Laws of the Hanse Towns (circa 1597)

No master shall undertake to build a ship, unless he is assured that his owners and undertakers are agreed upon what model it shall be built, and on every thing relating to the building of it; which undertakers and owners shall be burghers and inhabitants of one of the Hanse Towns, and no others. However, if the master will go through with the building at his own expense, he may do it; otherwise he must always have the consent of those burghers that are concerned with him, on pain of forfeiting half a dollar a ton.

No master shall begin to build a ship, after he and his joint owners or partners have resolved upon it, until they have agreed among themselves of what size, height and depth she shall be, how broad and how long, and this agreement shall be taken in writing on pain of forfeiting 12 sols a ton.

The master in like manner shall not repair the ship, sails or cordage without the owner’s consent, on pain of being at all the charge of it himself, unless in case of necessity, when he is in a strange country.

The master may not buy any thing whatsoever for his ship, unless it is in the presence, and with the consent of one or two of the partners; if he does he shall forfeit 50 sols; nor shall the master, or any of the owners buy any thing for the ship’s use, upon the credit of the other owners who would pay ready money for their part of the disbursement.

An inventory shall be taken of every thing the ship wants, that it may be bought by the master and owners jointly.

The master ought to buy every thing at the cheapest rate without fraud, on pain of corporal punishment; and he shall enter in his account the name of the person of whom he bought the goods, and where they live.

If a master or mariner keep back any of the merchandize he took in on freight, they shall be apprehended and punished as robbers, unless it was in case of necessity.

Nor may they give above the market price for any provisions, and what they shall buy shall be carried to the ship’s store-house, and be kept there till she is ready to sail.

All masters are forbidden to sell any of the ship’s provisions, on pain of being punished as thieves, except it is at sea, when they meet with other ships in distress and danger of perishing for want of them; for which they shall however be accountable to the owners.

The master when the ship is returned, is obliged to deliver up to the owners, the remains of his victuals and ammunition.

The master is obliged to set sail two or three days after his ship is loaden, if the wind is fair, on pain of forfeiting 200 livres; and in case any one of the owners has not paid his quota of the charge of the ship’s outset by that time, he shall forfeit as much; and the master may besides, borrow money on bottomry, for the deficient owner’s quota. The merchants are bound to load the ship by a prefixed time, on pain of paying the whole freight, notwithstanding the ship proceeds in her voyage light, and in her ballast only.

When the master gives in his account, he shall summon all his owners together, on pain of 100 livres forfeit.

The master shall not take any merchandse aboard on his head, or by the consent of one of his owners, without the approbation of them all: if he does, the penalty is confiscation, or other punishment.

The owners having lawful cause, may turn off a master, paying him for what share he has in the ship, at the price it cost him.

All owners are forbidden to entertain any master unless he produces a certificate of his honesty and ability, and that he quitted the service of the merchants he served last, with their consent: if they do, they shall pay 25 crowns penalty.

Before the master hires any mariner or pilot, he ought to acquaint the owners with what wages he is to give them, and have their aIlowance of it, under penalty of 25 crowns.

If several ships are in company on the same voyage, they are obliged to stay for one another, or be liable to all the damages that may happen to the others by au enemy or pirates.

No master shall hire a mariner, before he has seen his pass or certificate of his faithful behaviour in the service of his last master, on pain of forfeiting 100 sols, unless he is necessitated to it in a strange country.

Masters are obliged to give mariners certificates of their faithful service; and if any one refuses, or delays, he shall forfeit 100 sols.

A ship being forced to stay or winter ln a strange country, the mariners are not to go out of her without the master’s permission, on pain of losing half their wages.

If the master maintains the mariners all the winter, they cannot oblige him to give them more wages; but if they endeavour to do it, they shall forfeit half of what they were ta have had, and be punished further, according to the circumstances of their offence. 

No seaman may go ashore without the consent of the master, pilot, mate or clerk of the ship, under penalty of 25 sols for each time. 

The seamen who are ashore with the master are obliged to look after the boat, and return on board as soon as they are commanded: and he who stays or lies ashore, shall pay a forfeit, or suffer imprisonment. 

If the master changes his voyage, and steers another course than was intended, he ought to have the consent of his mariners, or pay them what the major party of them shall adjudge to be due to them for his changing of the voyage; and if then any one of them will not obey him, he shall be punished as a mutineer.

If any mariner sleep on a watch, he shall pay four sols forfeit: and whoever finds him asleep, and does not discover it, two sols.

All seamen are forbidden to moor any skiffs or boats to a ship’s side, on pain of imprisonment,

He who shall be found incapable of discharging his duty as a pilot or mariner, for which he has received wages, shall forfeit all that was promised him, and be besides punished according to his demerit.

Masters shall pay their seamen at three payments, one third when the ship sets sail, outward bound; one third when she is unloaden, and the other when she is returned home.

A master may at any time turn away a mariner that rebels against, or is unfaithful to him.

If one mariner kills another, the master is bound to seise him, and keep him in safe custody till he arrives at his port, and then to deliver him up to justice to be punished.

The seamen may not feast and carouse in the ship without the master’s leave, on pain of losing half their wages.

No seaman shall let his wife lie aboard under pernalty of 50 sols.

No seaman ought to carry powder and shot without the master’s consent, on pain of paying double the value of it.

The master is bound when he returns home, to give an account before the magistrate, of what forfeitures he received, and for what, under penalty of 25 crowns.

The seamen are obliged to defend the ship against rovers, on pain of losing their wages; and if they are wounded, they shall be healed and cured at the general charge of the concerned in a common average. If any one of them is maimed and disabled, he shall, be maintained as long as he lives by a like average.

If the mariners, or any of the company refuse to assist on the like occasion, and the ship be taken or lost, they shall be condemned to be whipped as cowards and rascals.

If the mariners resolve to defend the ship, and the master is afraid and against it, he shall be turned out of his post with infamy, and declared incapable of ever commanding a ship afterwards.

The ship’s ballast shall be carried to the place designed for it, and those that are refractory, and will not help in it, shall be punished by the magistrates of the place.

If any seaman is wounded in the ship’s service, he shall be cured at the charge of the ship, but not if he is wounded otherwise.

If any one of the seamen goes ashore without leave, and the ship happens to receive any damage in the time, or to be lost for want of hands, he shall be kept in prison upon bread and water for one year; and if any seaman dies or perishes with the ship for want of the assistance of the absent seaman, the latter shall be punished with corporal punishmat.

If a mariner behaves himself ill the master may turn him off; but if he discharge him for no reason before the voyage begins, he shall pay him a third part of his wages, but shall not charge it in the ship’s account.

If the master discharges a seaman during the voyage, for no lawful cause given, he is bound to pay him his whole wages, and defray the charge of his return; but if the mariner desires the master’s leave to quit the ship, he shall be bound to restore all the money he received, and pay his own charges.

If an officer or seaman quits a ship, and conceals himself; if afterwards he is apprehended, he shall be delivered up to justice to be punished; he shall be stigmatized in the face with the first letter of the name of the town to which he belongs.

If a ship is lost the mariners are obliged to save as much of the goods as they can, and the master ought to reward and satisfy them for it, and pay the charge of their journey home; if the mariners refuse to assist the master, they shall have neither wages nor reward.

If any mariner falls sick of any disease, he shall be put ashore and maintained in like manner as if he was on shipboard, and be attended by another mariner. However, the master is not obliged to stay for him; if he recovers his health, he shall be paid his wages as much as if he had served out the whole voyage; and in case he dies, his heirs shall have what was due to him.

If mariners mutiny, and force the master to enter into any harbour or port, and the ship or cargo is lost, either in whole or in part, for which the seamen run away; if afterwards they are taken, they shall be corporally punished.

The master shall not give the seamen any cause to mutiny, but supply them with what is convenient, and pay them what is their due punctually and faithfully.

The master who shall debauch a seaman, and hire him after he had hired himself to another master, shall pay 25 livres, and the mariner shall pay to the first master for damages, half the wages the second had promised him.

If a ship is stopped in a strange country, or the mariners are forced to stay there for their freight, or on another account, they shall all that time be maintained as is usual; but shall not pretend to demand any extra-ordinary wages; and what is due to them shall be paid to them or their assigns, when the ship is discharged. If any seaman is so bold as to leave the ship because of her stay, he shall be corporally punished according to his demerits.

If a master takes any gold, silver, diamonds, or other merchandize of great price, which obliges him to have a more than ordinary care of it, a fourth part of the freight of such rich goods shall be allowed him, and the owners shall have the other three fourths.

The master ought to put a mariner in each boat or lighter that is to carry salt to land, as well to take care of it, as to see that a right account is kept of its measure.

Mariners hired aboard ships bound for France or Spain, shall not be maintained by the masters when they are outward bound, but shall live on their own provisions; but when they are homeward bound, the master shall maintain them; and if the master advances or lends them any money, he may pay himself by deducting it out of their wages. If the ship is not loaden home, the master is not obliged to maintain them.

The masters may not alienate or sell any part of their provisions or furniture until the voyage is made, and when they do, the owners shall be preferred to any other in the sale of them.

The mariners shall not take any grains of salt belonging to the ship’s loading, but shall put some aboard for their own use, with the knowledge and consent of the merchant or others concerned, on pain of being severely punished.

The master or the pilot may each load 12 barrels on their particular account; the other officers six each, and the seamen four each; the cook and the boys two each.

If a master, to displease his owners, selIs his part of a ship for more than it is worth, the said part shall be appraised by men of experience; after which the owners may take it or leave it at the price it was appraised at, as they think fit.

If a master, fraudulently, shall borrow money upon bottomry, and mortgage his ship for it, or stay with it in any nort a long time, and sell it, together with the merchandize, the said master shall be incapable of having the command of a ship afterwards, and never be admitted into any city, but shall be punished without mercy.

A master being at home, may not borrow any more money on bottomry, than his own part of the ship is worth; if he does, the other shares of the ship shall not be liable for it; neither shall he take any freiglit without the knowledge and consent of the owners.

If the owners are at variance, and cannot agree about the freight of their ship, that opinion shall carry it, which has the majority on its side by two or three. The master may also in such case, take up money upon bottomry, as well on their shares who do not consent, as on theirs who do.

A master being in a strange country, if necessity drives him to it, may take up money on bottomry, if he cannot get it without, and the owners shall bear the charge of it.

Source of text: 30 Federal Cases 1197-1201.