Named for the late Senator Wesley Jones (R-WA), the Jones Act is the most commonly known of the U.S. maritime cabotage laws. Cabotage laws, which are common throughout the world, are designed to protect trade between two points within a single country. Just as you cannot take British Airways to fly between New York and Los Angeles, you cannot take use a foreign flagged vessel to transport goods and passengers between two ports in the United States.
The Jones Act, as Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 is commonly referred to, is the most fundamental and bedrock principle that sustains the modern American merchant marine. Despite the fact that the underlying legislation is nearly ninety years old, the Jones Act still maintains the full support of the executive and legislative branches of our government.
Although the current Jones Act only dates back to 1920, the United States has had similar cabotage laws on the books since the first Congress in 1789. The basic impetus behind these laws is to encourage the construction and maintenance of an American flag merchant fleet, as well as to maintain the number of crews and skilled workers needed to keep that fleet sailing.
The Jones Act mandates that all vessels engaged in domestic waterborne commerce between two ports in the United States be:
Built in the United States
Owned by a U.S. citizen
Documented under the laws of the United States (fly the U.S.-Flag)
Crewed by U.S. citizen seafarers
The Jones Act and other cabotage laws, which includes laws regarding Passenger Vessels, dredging and salvage, ensure that the United States has the vessels, seafarers and shipyards necessary to protect the national security of the country, and for use in time of war or national emergency.