The cornerstone of the U.S. merchant
mariner’s rights is the Jones Act. It was
named for Senator Wesley Jones during
the administration of President Woodrow
Wilson, and is otherwise known as the
Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The Jones
Act addresses the construction and
manning of vessels as well as legal
remedies for injured seamen. Essentially,
the Jones Act took the remedies available
to railroad workers under the Federal
Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) and
extended them to merchant seamen.

The Jones Act requires that commerce
between U.S. ports on the inland and
intracoastal waterways be reserved for
vessels that are:

▪ U.S. Built
▪ U.S. Owned
▪ Registered under U.S. Law
▪ U.S. Manned

The architects of the Jones Act
recognized that a strong merchant marine
was good for the economy and national
security. The legislative intent was that U.
S. shipyards would enjoy construction
contracts, the treasury would enjoy tax
revenues, U.S. merchant mariners would
enjoy employment, and U.S. ships would
operate under high standards of safety
and crew competency.

In addition to governing the construction
and operation of ships within the United
States, the Jones Act codified the
remedies of individual merchant mariners
in the event of an injury. As an Act of
Congress, the Jones Act gives rise to a
Federal cause of action, indicating that
its planners wished for the application of
a uniform standard of liability throughout
United States Courts.

And it is this part of the Jones Act that
most working mariners are familiar
with…the legal remedy of an injured
seaman, fishermen (legally, a fishermen
is a Jones Act seaman). The exclusive
class of persons to whom the Jones Act
allows recovery is seamen. A seaman is a
member of the crew of a vessel, man or
woman, or someone assigned to the
vessel. To be a seaman, the person’s
duties must contribute to the function of
the vessel, and he or she must have a
connection with the vessel in navigation,
and the duration of the person’s
connection and nature of the person’s
activities with the vessel must evidence
that he is a member of the crew.

To qualify as a seaman, one must meet
the following requirements: (1.) they must
contribute to the function of the vessel or
to the accomplishment of its mission. (2.)
they must have a connection to a vessel
in navigation (or to an identifiable group
of vessels) that is substantial in terms of
both its duration and its nature. Chandris
v. Latsis 515 U.S. 347, 368 (1995).

Through the Jones Act, an injured
seaman can bring a claim for negligence
against the employer. Basically,
negligence means carelessness…or
departure from a standard of care on the
part of the vessel that led to a seaman’s
injury. Damages that an injured seaman
is entitled to include:

▪ Lost wages
▪ Medical expenses
▪ Pain, suffering, and mental anguish

You can read the actual text by clicking
Text of the Jones Act, which will link you
to that page.

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Back to Commercial Vessels
What Is The Jones Act? A Summary of the Jones Act
Injured at Sea - Hurt Offshore - Maritime Injury - Inland Water Injuries - Commercial Divers - Tankermen - Seamen
The Jones Act has weathered opposition
from reform groups who want to
effectively remove or waive the manning
requirements that protect the American
commercial seaman. Some of these
groups appear to have no connection to
the maritime industry…leave alone a
passionate interest in seeing the Jones
Act dismembered. It’s a tug of war
between the rights, safety and dignity of
the American working mariner on one
hand and cheap transportation on the
other. My heart is with the working
mariner…but let's get back to the nuts
and bolts of the Jones Act.
Framing a Cause of Action
When a commercial
fisherman or other seaman
brings a lawsuit for injury -
injuries, the claim is framed
in a legal theory of one kind or
another. A lawsuit can
combine legal theories and
be based on more than one
at a time. The legal theory of a
seaman's claim...identifies
the basis of the action.

For instance, if the seaman
bases his cause of action on
Jones Act negligence,
everyone in the court will
know the variety of case it is.
This means knowing what the
legal burdens are for the
seaman to prove negligence,
what the statute of limitations
will be, what the standard
damages will include, what
the defendant's typical
defenses will be in a
negligence action.

Negligence is one of the most
common legal theories on
which an injured seaman will
bring his or her lawsuit. But
there are other legal theories
on which a seaman may
bring an action. Probably the
second most well known
legal theory for seaman's
claims is one for
unseaworthiness against the
vessel’s owner if the vessel
was unseaworthy. Vessel
owners owe seamen a strict
and absolute duty to provide a
seaworthy vessel, that is, one
reasonably fit for its intended

But unlike negligence claims,
which are against the
employer, claims for
unseaworthiness are brought
Also, the entire vessel need
not be unseaworthy, only the
part that caused the seaman’
s injury.
questions about what is required
for seaman status. Although the
Supreme Court denied the petition
for certiorari on the matter, a
number of federal circuits hold that
time in the service of the vessel,
even if ashore, counts toward the
time necessary to satisfy
Act seaman status.