Maritime law is a complete system of law, both public and private, substantive and procedural, national and international, with its own courts and jurisdiction, which goes back to Rhodian law of 800 B.C. and pre-dates both the civil and common laws.
Its more modern origins were civilian in nature, as first seen in the R�les of Oléron of circa 1190 A.D. Maritime law was subsequently greatly influenced and formed by the English Admiralty Court and then later by the common law itself.
That maritime law is a complete legal system can be seen from its component parts. For centuries maritime law has had its own law of contract:
of sale (of ships);
of service (towage);
of lease (chartering);
of carriage (of goods by sea);
of insurance (marine insurance being the precursor of insurance ashore);
of agency (ship chandlers);
of pledge (bottomry and respondentia);
of hire (of masters and seamen);
of compensation for sickness and personal injury (maintenance and cure) and
risk distribution (general average).
It is and has been a national and an international law (probably the first private international law). It has also had its own public law and public international law. Maritime law is composed of two main parts - national maritime statutes and international maritime conventions, on the one hand, and the general maritime law (lex maritima), on the other.
Today's general maritime law consists of the common forms, terms, rules, standards and practices of the maritime shipping industry - standard form bills of lading, charter parties, marine insurance policies and sales contracts are good examples of common forms and the accepted meaning of the terms, as well as the York/Antwerp Rules on general average and the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits.