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Understanding the Jones Act

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2022 | Admiralty And Maritime Law

Maritime laws can differ from those on land. The Jones Act came into effect in 1920 after World War I, and it provides protections for those who work on maritime vessels.

There are certain eligibility requirements that a vessel needs to meet in order to qualify as a Jones Act vessel. The employers also have requirements to keep the environment safe for workers.

Basics of the Jones Act

According to the Transportation Institute, the Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a statute that allows for a safe network of merchant seafarers within the United States. One principle of the act is that only U.S. vessels can ship goods in between United States ports. To qualify as a Jones Act vessel, its construction must take place in the U.S, the registration needs to be in the U.S., its ownership must be 75% U.S. and there must be at least 75% American workers on board.

The act supports domestic commerce, creates a reliable shipping industry, supports the ship building industry and serves as a naval auxiliary.

Requirements of employers

The Jones Act also provides protections against injury for the seamen on board. The PBS News Hour discusses the responsibilities of employers regarding the crew’s well-being and safety. Employer requirements include:

  • Providing safe work environments
  • Providing medical care
  • Maintaining and repairing the vessel as needed
  • Providing crew training and licensing
  • Providing necessary safety equipment like life boats
  • Complying with Environment Protection Agency regulations

Seamen status and eligibility

If a crew member suffers from injuries will working on the vessel, he or she may seek compensation if the employer was negligent. However, this individual must meet certain eligibility requirements, as only seamen qualify under the Jones Act.

Generally, a seaman must spend at least 30% of the time on the vessel in navigation. In order to be a vessel in navigation, it must be in operation, capable of moving, afloat and in navigable waters. Even if an injured seaman is not eligible under the Jones Act, he or she will more than likely have protections under a different law.


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