Maritime Laws: Everything You Need to Know About the Jones Act

Maritime Laws: Everything You Need to Know About the Jones Act

During World War I, the US found itself in a situation where they didn’t have enough vessels to conduct their normal trade which impacted the economy. Once the US joined the war effort, they also didn’t have a sufficient number of vessels for transporting materials, war supplies, and soldiers to Europe.

After the war, the Jones Act was passed for a number of reasons, one of which was to ensure that the U.S. never again had insufficient maritime capacity should another war occur in the future.

Are you interested in learning more about maritime laws and the rights of sailors?

If so, stick with us and we’ll take a deep dive into the Jones Act.

What Is the Jones Act?

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute in the United States. It exists to maintain and promote the US merchant marine. It regulates maritime commerce that takes place in American waters between American ports, in addition to other purposes.

The Jones Act is the name for Section 27 of the aforementioned Merchant Marine Act. This act deals with coastwise trade, also known as “cabotage”. It requires that any and all goods that are transported on the water between different U.S. ports must be transported on U.S. flagships that were owned by U.S. citizens, constructed in the U.S., and crewed by U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The Jones Act also defines certain rights of sailors. It was introduced by Wesley Jones.

This U.S. federal law was put in place after World War I with the intent of trying to revitalize the U.S. shipping industry. It is still in effect today and it regulates maritime commerce that occurs within the United States.

There have been some laws that were similar to the Jones Act that dates all the way back to the beginning of the United States. There was an act enacted by the First Congress in 1789 that served basically the same purpose as the Navigation Acts of England.

What Are the Underlying Goals of the Jones Act?

There are a number of purposes that the Jones Act exists to promote. Let’s take a look at two of the major underlying goals of this act.

Support National Defense and Encourage the Development of a National Fleet

Before the Jones Act was put in place, the U.S. government struggled to build enough ships to support the war effort during World War I. As a result, ships were built hastily in order to meet the needs of the military effort. This resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

If there is a national emergency or a war, American ships can help to support American military operations with their manpower and capacity. In order to build U.S. ships, infrastructure needs to be established, including equipment, repair yards, systems, etc. Rather than starting from scratch when an emergency strikes, the U.S. military can make use of this infrastructure when the need is there.

Fuel Economic Growth and Strengthen the American Maritime Industry

Another major goal of the Jones Act was to help fuel innovation in waterborne transportation and shipbuilding. It helps to keep the maritime industry of the U.S. strong.

The American Maritime Partnership has stated that this act generates roughly $150 billion every year in economic benefits. On top of that, they say it supports 650,000 American jobs.


Cabotage is a term that refers to goods that are moved between two different United States locations. The original act specified that cabotage only referred to goods that were transported between U.S. ports on coastal waters. Since then, however, the term has been expanded to also encapsulate goods that are transported by airplane.

These goods that are shipped between two ports or locations must be transported on a vessel that is owned by a U.S. citizen and made in the U.S. While it is possible to obtain a waiver for this act, it is incredibly rare to actually obtain one.

You can learn more about what is covered under the Jones Act here.

Seamen’s Rights

First, we’ll want to define what a seaman is. It is, in general, a person who performs a significant amount of their work on any kind of boat or ship. This means that they might be a captain, a crewmember, or play another role entirely.

Another aspect of the Jones Act is that it allows sailors to sue their employer if they are killed or injured while out at sea. In the case of the death of a seaman, it is legal for a personal representative to seek compensation on the behalf of the deceased. The party has the right to bring a civil lawsuit against the employer in both instances.

If the employer’s negligence leads to the injury or death of the sailor, they have the right to claim damages. Negligence can mean a number of different things, including faulty equipment, unsafe instructions, failure to provide medical treatment, and more.

Sailors aren’t entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under federal law or state law, unlike almost all land-based workers. This means that the only compensation they can seek if they have been injured on the job is through the Jones Act.

Maritime Laws: The Legal World Off Land

Many of us might be familiar with the fact that there are different laws in various cities, states, and countries. That being said, it’s not as common to ponder the legality of different actions once you leave the land.

Maritime laws are an absolutely necessary body of laws since so much commerce and transport occurs via the water. While the Jones Act is controversial in some ways, proponents of the law claim that it has helped to protect the U.S. both in times of war as well as in its economic strength.

Did you find this article on maritime laws interesting? If so, be sure to check out the rest of our blog for more fascinating and informative content!