What is Admiralty?

Legal Definition
The Admiralty was the government department responsible for the command of the Royal Navy in the Kingdom of England, and later in Great Britain, and from 1709 and until 1964 in the United Kingdom and former British Empire. Originally exercised by a single person, the Lord High Admiral, the Admiralty was, from the early 18th century onwards, almost invariably put "in commission" and exercised by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who sat on the Board of Admiralty.

In 1964, the functions of the Admiralty were transferred to a new Admiralty Board, which is a committee of the tri-service Defence Council of the United Kingdom and part of the Ministry of Defence. The new Admiralty Board meets only twice a year, and the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy is controlled by a Navy Board (not to be confused with the historic Navy Board described later in this article). It is common for the various authorities now in charge of the Royal Navy to be referred to as simply The Admiralty.

The title of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom was vested in the monarch from 1964 to 2011. The title was awarded to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh by Queen Elizabeth II on his 90th birthday. There also continues to be a Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom and a Rear-Admiral of the United Kingdom, both of which are honorary offices.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
Admiralty law or maritime law is the distinct body of law (both substantive and procedural) governing navigation and shipping. Topics associated with this field in legal reference works may include: shipping; navigation; waters; commerce; seamen; towage; wharves, piers, and docks; insurance; maritime liens; canals; and recreation. Piracy (ship hijacking) is also an aspect of admiralty.

The courts and Congress seek to create a uniform body of admiralty law both nationally and internationally in order to facilitate commerce. The federal courts derive their exclusive jurisdiction over this field from the Judiciary Act of 1789 and from Article III, § 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Congress regulates admiralty partially through the Commerce Clause. American admiralty law formerly applied only to American tidal waters. It now extends to any waters navigable within the United States for interstate or foreign commerce. In such waters admiralty jurisdiction includes maritime matters not involving interstate commerce, including recreational boating.

Admiralty law in the United States developed from the British admiralty courts present in most of the American colonies. These courts functioned separately from courts of law and equity. With the Judiciary Act, though, Congress placed admiralty under the jurisdiction of the federal district courts. Although admiralty shares much in common with the civil law, it is separate from it. Common law does not act as binding precedent on admiralty courts, but it and other law may be used when no law on point is available.

Parties subject to admiralty may not contract out of admiralty jurisdiction, and states may not infringe on admiralty jurisdiction either judicially or legislatively. Since admiralty courts, however, are courts of limited jurisdiction (which does not extend to nonmaritime matters), 28 USC § 1333(1), the "Savings to Suitors Clause," does provide for concurrent state jurisdiction so that non-admiralty remedies will not be foreclosed. Moreover, state courts may have jurisdiction where the matter is primarily local.

Under admiralty, the ship's flag determines the source of law. For example, a ship flying the American flag in the Persian Gulf would be subject to American admiralty law; and a ship flying a Norwegian flag in American waters will be subject to Norwegian admiralty law. This also applies to criminal law governing the ship's crew. But the ship must be flying the flag legitimately; that is, there must be more than insubstantial contact between the ship and its flag, in order for the law of the flag to apply. American courts may refuse jurisdiction where it would involve applying the law of another country, although in general international law does seek uniformity in admiralty law.

Just as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure placed law and equity under the same jurisdiction in 1938, the 1966 rules subsumed admiralty. Nonetheless, the Supplemental Admiralty Rules take precedence over the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the event of conflict between the two.
Legal Definition
The name of a jurisdiction which takes cognizance of suits or actions which arise in consequence of acts done upon or relating to the sea; or, in other words, of all transactions and proceedings relative to commerce and navigation, and to damages or injuries upon the sea. 2 Gall. R. 468. In the great maritime nations of Europe, the term " admiralty jurisdiction," is, uniformly applied to courts exercising jurisdiction over maritime contracts and concerns. It is as familiarly known among the jurists of Scotland, France, Holland and Spain, as of England, and applied to their own courts, possessing substantially the same jurisdiction as the English Admiralty had in the reign of Edward III. Ibid., and the authorities there cited; and see, also, Bac. Ab. Court of Admiralty; Merl. Repert. h. t. Encyclopedie, h. t.; 1 Dall. 323.

2. The Constitution of the United States has delegated to the courts of the national government cognizance "of all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;" and the act of September 24, 1789, ch. 20 s. 9, has given the district court " cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," including all seizures under laws of imposts, navigation or trade of the United States, where the seizures are made on waters navigable from the sea, by vessels of ten or more tons burden, within their respective districts, as well as upon the high seas.

3. It is not within the plan of this work to enlarge upon this subject. The reader is referred to the article Courts of the United States, where he will find all which has been thought necessary to say upon it as been the subject. Vide, generally, Dunlap's Adm. Practice; Bett's Adm. Practice; 1 Kent's Com. 353 to 380; Serg. Const. Law, Index, h. t.; 2 Gall. R. 398. to 476; 2 Chit. P. 508; Bac. Ab. Courts of Admiralty; 6 Vin. Ab. 505; Dane's Ab. Index b. t; 12 Bro. Civ. and Adm. Law; Wheat. Dig. 1; 1 Story L. U. S. 56, 60; 2 Id. 905, 3 Id. 1564, 1696; 4 Sharsw. cont. of Story's L. U. S. 2262; Clerke's Praxis; Collectanea Maritima; 1 U. S. Dig. tit. Admiralty Courts, XIII.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
A court exercising jurisdiction over maritime causes, both civil and criminal, and marine affairs, commerce and navigation, controversies arising out of acts done upon or relating to the sea, and over questions of prize Also, the system of jurisprudence relating to and growing out of the jurisdiction and practice of the admiralty courts. In English law. The executive department of state which presides over the naval forces of the kingdom.

The normal head is the lord high admiral, but in practice the functions of the great office are discharged by several commissioners, of whom one is the chief, and is called the "First Lord." He is assisted by other lords and by various secretaries. Also the court of the admiral. The building where the lords of the admiralty transact business. In American law. A tribunal exercising jurisdiction over all maritime contracts, torts, injuries, or offenses. 2 Pars. Mar. Law, 508; New England Marine Ins. Co. v. Dunham, 11 Wall. 1, 23, 20 L. Ed. 90; De Lovio v. Boit, 2 Gall. 398, Fed. Cas. No. 3,776; The Belfast v. Boon, 7 Wall. 624, 19 L. Ed. 266; Ex parte Easton. 95 U. S. 68, 72, 24 L. Ed. 373.
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
Courts having jurisdiction in maritime cases.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary