Deutsch: Jones-Gesetz / Español: Ley Jones / Português: Lei Jones / Français: Loi Jones / Italian: Legge Jones

Jones Act refers to a United States federal statute that regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports. In the maritime context, it primarily mandates that goods transported by water between U.S. ports must be carried on ships that are built, owned, and operated by United States citizens or permanent residents.


Jones Act, officially known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a significant piece of legislation in the maritime context. Its main provisions require that vessels transporting goods or passengers between two U.S. ports must be U.S.-flagged, constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed predominantly by U.S. citizens. This law aims to support the U.S. maritime industry, ensuring the availability of a robust fleet for national defense and economic security.

The Jones Act has several key components:

  1. Cabotage Laws: These laws restrict the transportation of goods or passengers between U.S. ports to qualified American vessels. This promotes the domestic shipping industry and ensures that shipping capabilities remain within national control.
  2. Crew Requirements: Vessels operating under the Jones Act must be crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents, which supports American jobs and enhances maritime skills within the country.
  3. Construction Requirements: Ships must be constructed in U.S. shipyards, fostering domestic shipbuilding and related industries.
  4. Ownership Rules: At least 75% of the vessel's ownership must be vested in U.S. citizens, ensuring that control over these vessels remains with Americans.

Special Considerations

The Jones Act has been subject to debate and scrutiny. Proponents argue that it is vital for national security, as it ensures the availability of a merchant marine fleet that can be used in times of war or national emergencies. It also supports U.S. shipyards and maritime jobs, contributing to the country's economic stability.

Critics, however, claim that the Jones Act increases shipping costs, as U.S.-built and operated vessels are generally more expensive than foreign counterparts. This can lead to higher prices for goods transported within the U.S. Additionally, some argue that the Act restricts competition and innovation in the maritime industry.

Application Areas

  1. Domestic Shipping: Transporting goods and passengers between U.S. ports, such as between the mainland and Hawaii, Alaska, or Puerto Rico.
  2. Shipbuilding: Supporting the construction and maintenance of vessels in U.S. shipyards.
  3. Maritime Employment: Ensuring that jobs on vessels operating between U.S. ports are held by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
  4. National Defense: Maintaining a fleet of vessels that can be utilized for defense and emergencies.

Well-Known Examples

  • Horizon Lines: A prominent Jones Act shipping company that provides services between the U.S. mainland and Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.
  • Matson Navigation Company: Operates in the Pacific, including routes to Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam, under the Jones Act regulations.
  • Crowley Maritime Corporation: Provides shipping services to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories under the Jones Act.

Treatment and Risks

While the Jones Act supports U.S. maritime industries, it also presents several challenges:

  • Higher Costs: U.S.-flagged, -built, and -crewed vessels are typically more expensive to operate, which can increase transportation costs.
  • Limited Fleet: The requirement for U.S. construction and ownership limits the number of vessels available for domestic shipping.
  • Economic Impact: Higher shipping costs can affect the price of goods, particularly in non-contiguous U.S. regions like Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
  • Global Competition: U.S. vessels may be less competitive globally due to higher operating costs and stricter regulations.

Similar Terms

  • Cabotage Laws
  • Merchant Marine Act
  • Maritime Commerce Regulations
  • U.S. Shipping Laws
  • Domestic Maritime Law



Jones Act is a crucial piece of legislation in the U.S. maritime context, regulating domestic shipping by requiring that goods transported between U.S. ports are carried on U.S.-built, -owned, and -crewed vessels. While it supports national security, maritime jobs, and the domestic shipbuilding industry, it also faces criticism for raising shipping costs and limiting competition. Despite the ongoing debate, the Jones Act remains a foundational element of U.S. maritime policy.