Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Voyage Definition:

In maritime law, the time of a ship's transit from one place to another.

A ship or vessel's voyage can be from one place to another, including the return trip depending on the circumstances.

In her law book entitled Shipping, Elizabeth Portman wrote that the meaning of the word voyage:

"...when applied to a ship, depends in any particular case on the employment in which the ship is engaged. If a ship of war or other ship is sent on a particular expedition, her voyage would generally include her return home, as a voyage of convoy or of exploration or discovery.

"The matter is otherwise in the case of the great Atlantic passenger steamships. In their case, speaking generally, each passage across the sea is a voyage, and the same is true of ships carrying passengers and cargoes across the sea, and loading and discharging on both sides."

Justice Willes, in Valente v Gibbs, wrote, succinctly:

"... when she sails, the voyage commences. Before her departure, no voyage exists...."

Titanic voyageJustice Blackburn added, in Harrison v Garthorne:

"... voyage is nothing more than the passage of the vessel on the transit."

Promoting judicial discretion, Justice Loreburn, in Board of Trade v Baxter, Re The Scarsdale wrote that voyage "does not admit of a definition" and that, therefore:

"It must in each case be a question of fact what is a voyage, and in ascertaining what it is a Court may regard the following among other considerations: the duration of the adventure in point of time and unity, its geographical limits and direction, whether new cargoes are shipped or new charters made or ports visited in orderly succession, and in particular whether there has been a sailing from and afterwards a return to the United Kingdom."

In the above extract from Board of Trade, one can replace the words "United Kingdom" with the words "port of departure"

In some instances, statute definitions have displaced the common law and provide a definition for the term as Portman mentions in her treatise as follows:

"The interpretation section of the Canada Shipping Act (1985) defines voyage as including passage or trip and any movement of a ship from one place to another or from one place and returning."

Events of significance in law often occur when the facts themselves are unclear as to whether or not a ship was, at the time of the event, embarked upon her voyage. This is particularly true when insurance claims arise during loading of a ship. Justice Macdonald of the British Columbia Supreme Court wrestled with this in Automatic Electric Telephone Co. v. Union Steamship Co. and concluded as follows:

"In Crow v. Falk,  it was held that the time of loading was not part of the voyage; but in several later cases it has been decided that the words during the voyage cover a preliminary voyage to the port of loading which has been incorporated in the charter-party; and therefore in the Carron Park Case, Sir James Hannen treated Crow v. Falk as overruled, and held that the voyage included the loading time.

"It is to be noted, that the writer does not consider that the effect of the Carron Park Case was that the learned Judge held, that loading simply was part of the voyage, but seemed to consider, that a preliminary voyage to a port to load and thence to some objective port would, in the event of loading at some intermediate point, be part of a voyage, as to the goods first loaded."


  • Board of Trade v Baxter, The Scarsdale 1907 AC 373
  • Canada Shipping Act 1985, R.S.C., 1985, Chapter S-9, §2
  • Carron Park Case, 15 PD 203 and at 59 LJ Adm 74
  • Crow v. Falk 115 ER 952 (1846)
  • Harrison v Garthorne (1872) 26 LT 508
  • Portman, E., Shipping, Volume 31, Title 135 of the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (Toronto: Carswell, 2005), §19.
  • Valente v Gibbs 141 ER 459 (1859)

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