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The Jones Act, also referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute that governs the maintenance and promotion of marine business in the United States. For example, Section 27 of the Act talks about the coastal trade. It requires that all cargo transported via sea across the US ports should be ferried by US-flagged and -built vessels.

The Jones Act was proposed by Wesley Jones, a former US senator of the 66th Congress, and it was enacted in June 1920. This Act has been amended many times, and the latest revision dates back to 2006.

Objectives of the Act

The main reason for the introduction of the Jones Act is to ensure and facilitate a vibrant and safe maritime industry. This is aimed at protecting the maritime commerce of the United States. To further understand the objectives of the Act, below are important elements of the statute:

  • Preamble: According to the Jones Act, it is necessary for the US defense to have an equipped marine system that has the best vessels to carry mass commercial cargo. The vessels should also serve the military in crisis situations such as emergencies and war.
  • Cabotage Rights: Cabotage refers to the movement of cargo or people between two specific terminals across the waters of a given country. Cabotage rights give other nations the freedom to trade in US waters. The cabotage rights were enacted to ensure the security of US waters. For this reason, whoever trades in the US coasts has to have an appropriate license for the activity, and they must do so within the limits of the law.
  • Seamen’s Rights: This clause allows injured US sailors to make legal claims and earn compensation for damages. The Jones Act discourages ship owners from being negligent. For this reason, the seamen are allowed to consult a maritime lawyer to bring legal actions against their bosses if the latter is in violation of the Jones Act. The act stipulates that vessel owners can be reported to the Federal Court, and they should appear before the magistrate to answer the charges.

Effects of the Jones Act

The act prevents ships that are foreign-flagged from ferrying goods across US waters and non-contiguous zones such as Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. For this reason, foreign vessels are not allowed to load or offload in any of the four regions if they are not US-flagged. Normally, they are only allowed to proceed to the mainland to get the cabotage rights. ¬†However, there are those who think that this legislation is hindering free trade in the United States. They argue that such restrictions make the US market less competitive. On the contrary, a majority of US business people think that the statute is good for the nation’s economy.

Some critics argue that the Jones Act has made shipping across the ports in the United States expensive. Because of this, some residents prefer to fly cargo rather than ship them. Well, the cost depends on the value of the cargo that is transported.

Nonetheless, debates are ongoing on making further amendments to the Jones Act to permit US corporations to buy foreign-built vessels. According to those who are for the idea, the amendment will ensure that traffic on the coastal ways will reduce. This will guarantee a safe, fast, and efficient cargo transport system.


Overall, the Jones Act is seen as effective in ensuring secure maritime commerce. Understanding this law puts one in an advantaged position when it comes to trading across the American ports. With the right information, you will be able to transact within the confines of the law.