Jones Act – Cornerstone of US Maritime Safety & Security

The Jones Act is critical to the military strategy of the United States, which relies on the use of U.S. flag ships

The domestic American maritime industry strengthens U.S. national security at zero cost to the federal government. The domestic maritime fleet provides capacity and manpower that the armed forces can draw upon to support U.S. military operations. American ships, crews to man them, ship construction and repair yards, intermodal equipment, terminals, cargo tracking systems, and other infrastructure are available to the U.S. military at a moment’s notice in times of war, national emergency, or even in peacetime.

The Jones Act ensures a strong and vibrant maritime industry, which helps ensure the United States maintains its expertise in shipbuilding and waterborne transportation.

The U.S. Navy’s position is clear— repeal of the Jones Act would “hamper [America’s] ability to meet strategic sealift requirements and maintain and modernize our naval forces.”

Without American maritime, the U.S. would be dependent on foreign owned and flagged vessels for the transport of waterborne commerce in and around the country.

The U.S. Merchant Marine is a vital part of the domestic maritime industry and is recognized as “The Fourth Arm of National Defense.” Indeed, a strong domestic fleet ensures the United States will always have:

  1. World-class vessels to meet sealift needs
  2. Expert and experienced seafarers to man the U.S. government’s organic surge sealift ships in times of national emergency
  3. A modern shipyard industrial base that is critical to the nation’s economic, national, and homeland security
  4. Intermodal transportation systems available for defense use through the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA)

What is the Jones Act?

By definition, the movement of cargo between two points in the United States is governed by Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (46 U.S.C. § 55102). The law is generally referred to as the Jones Act in honor of its author, Senator Wesley Jones (R-WA). The Jones Act is the continuation of laws that encourage U.S.-flag fleet and allied industries that dates back to our nation’s founding.

The other major cabotage laws and statutes include:

  • Jones Act – 46 U.S.C. § 55102
  • Passenger Vessel Services Act – 46 U.S.C. § 55103
  • Fishing – 46 U.S.C. § 12113
  • Towing – 46 U.S.C. § 55111
  • Dredging – 46 U.S.C. § 55109

During Operations “Enduring Freedom” and “Iraqi Freedom” (2002-10), U.S.-flag commercial vessels, including ships drawn from the domestic trades, transported 63% of all military cargos moved to Afghanistan and Iraq.  Equally important, the domestic fleet also provided half of the mariners needed to crew U.S. government-owned sealift vessels activated from reserve status. Those vessels carried an additional 35% of the total cargos delivered to the war zone.









The Jones Act is also critical to our country’s economic security. The 40,000 Jones Act vessels operating in the domestic trades support nearly 650,000 American jobs and $150 billion in annual economic impact. An impressive five indirect jobs are created for every one direct maritime job, which results in more than $41 billion in labor compensation. The industry moves a billion tons of cargo every year, which plays an important role in relieving congestion on the nation’s crowded roads and railways.

The nation’s domestic shipbuilders, which are a key part of America’s maritime industry, delivered more than 1,300 vessels in 2016, which represented billions in total economic activity and thousands of direct and indirect jobs. To this day U.S. shipyards are growing and entering into contracts for hundreds of new vessels, including the construction of state-of-the-art tankers and Articulated Tug Barge units and expanding America’s fleet of low-emission LNG-powered containerships. U.S. shipyards are also leading the way in innovation with the construction of vessels to build America’s offshore wind farms.

Moreover, the Jones Act ensures that the vessels navigating our coastal and inland waterways abide by U.S. laws and operate under the oversight of the U.S. government. As was noted by the Lexington Institute in a 2011 report, “Were the Jones Act not in existence, DHS would be confronted by the difficult and very costly task of monitoring, regulating, and overseeing all foreign-controlled, foreign-crewed vessels in internal U.S. waters.”

Know the Facts

73% of the domestic maritime industry’s vessels are available for use in supporting the U.S. military.

95% of the equipment our military needs is best moved by water, despite the utility of large airplanes.

The domestic oceangoing fleet represents:

36% of all U.S.-flag commercial containerships

35% of all U.S.-flag roll on/roll off ships

90% of all U.S.-flag product tankers

35% of all U.S. commercial shipbuilding are vessels for domestic waterborne commerce; this helps maintain the skills and shipyard capacity needed to build and repair military vessels.

9 out of 10 American professional mariners work in the domestic trades.

The U.S. Navy’s position is clear—repeal of the Jones Act would “hamper [America’s] ability to meet strategic sealift requirements and maintain and modernize our naval forces.”

Our American commercial armada is as diverse as the nation it serves with more than 40,000 vessels engaged in domestic waterborne commerce. AMP members have invested well over $30 billion into their fleets and contribute more than $150 billion to the nation’s domestic economy annually.

Enhanced Safety and Security are two of primary benefits that result from America’s long-standing policies on domestic waterborne commerce.

  • U.S.-flag vessels are built and operated to the world’s highest safety standards.
  • No other nation sets a higher standard for mariner credentials.

AMP member organizations that move cargo between U.S. ports receive no direct subsidies from the government. Compared to foreign companies that receive direct subsidies from their respective governments, U.S. companies in the domestic trades succeed on their merits in the marketplace where competition is fierce. Equal application of U.S. cabotage laws ensures a level playing field, while encouraging both competition and new innovations.

Our American Made, American Maritime is a Cornerstone of our Nation.