Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Wharf Definition:

A platform elevated over the surface of the water to receive or disembark passengers or merchandise from vessels.

Related Terms: Dock, Bridge

In one early law case, Wescott v. American Creosoting Company, Justice Backes of the Court of Chancery of New Jersey suggested that a wharf was a space of ground artificially prepared for the reception of merchandise from a ship or vessel, so as to promote the convenient loading and discharging of such a vessel.

That century old legal definition is good as far as it goes but it omits the other significant purpose of a wharf: to receive or embark passengers from a vessel.

Better law was articulated by Justice Brand of the Supreme Court of Oregon in Port of Portland v Reeder:

"A wharf is a structure of timber, masonry, cement, earth or other material, built on shore or margin of harbor, river, canal, or other navigable water, so that vessels can be brought alongside it to receive and discharge cargo, passengers, etc."


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