Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Primage Definition:

A bonus or tip given to the captain of a vessel to supplement his/her wages and salaries.

Also payable to the ship employees but in the nature of a gratuity, a tip; for example, 5% of the freight charge.1

In anonymous Notes of the editors of the 1905 edition of the Australian law journal  Commonwealth Law Review, this:

"As all travellers know, a tip goes far when it is substantial-to insure comfort, but it does not legally possess the attributes of an insurance premium. And what is primage except a tip?

No doubt a large one - and in the case referred to one of such proportions as may put it in the class of sea monsters.

"A tip is a personal gratuity .... (Primage) was called in the old books hat money ... pourboire."

In some cases, maritime freight is stated to be inclusive of primage or of any primage charge, avoiding any upon-arrival surprises when a vessel master or employees expect a primage payment.

In his 1874 law dictionary, A. Brown wrote of primage:

“A small payment made to the master of a vessel for his personal care and trouble, which he is to receive in addition to his wage and salary, to his own use, unless he has otherwise agreed with his employer.”

Over the years, maritime law has evolved not only to make primage contingent on specific provision in either the charter-party or the bill of lading, but payable not to the master of the ship or the mariners, but to the owner of the ship.


  • 2 Commw. L. Rev. (1904-1905)
  • Best v. Saunders, Moo. & M. 208 (1828)
  • Brown, Archibald, A New Law Dictionary and Institute of the Whole Law for the Use of Students, the Legal Profession and the Public (London: Stevens & Sons, 1874), Page 287-288
  • Caughey v. Gordon, 3 C.P.D. 419 (1878)
  • NOTE 1: Lawrence v. Minturn, 58 US 100 (1855)

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