The cabotage provisions relating to the Jones Act restrict the carriage of goods or passengers between United States ports to U.S.-built and flagged vessels. It has been codified as portions of 46 U.S.C. Generally, the Jones Act prohibits any foreign-built, foreign-owned or foreign-flagged vessel from engaging in coastwise trade within the United States. A number of other statutes affect coastwise trade and should be consulted along with the Jones Act. These include the Passenger Vessel Services Act, 46 U.S.C. § 289, which restricts coastwise transportation of passengers, and 46 U.S.C. § 12108, which restricts the use of foreign vessels to commercially catch or transport fish
in U.S. waters. These provisions also require at least three-fourths (75 percent) of the crew members to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Moreover, the steel
of foreign repair work
on the hull and superstructure of a U.S.-flagged vessel is limited to ten percent by weight. This restriction largely prevents Jones Act ship-owners from refurbishing their ships at overseas shipyards.
The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (sometimes abbreviated to PVSA, Passenger Services Act, or PSA) is a protectionist piece of United States legislation which came into force in 1886 relating to cabotage. Essentially, it says:
No foreign vessels shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States, either directly or by way of a foreign port, under a penalty of $200 [now $762] for each passenger so transported and landed.
As a result, all vessels have engaged in the coastwise trade have been required to be coastwise-qualified (i.e., U.S.-built, owned, and documented). Under the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (46 USC § 55103), non-coastwise-qualified vessels cannot transport passengers directly between U.S. ports. Generally, a passenger is any person carried on a vessel who is not directly and substantially connected with the operation of such vessel, its navigation
, ownership, or business.
Reference the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration [MARAD] Small Vessel Waiver Program linked below
What is the Small Vessel Waiver Program?
The Jones Act requires that vessels operating in coastwise commerce be built in the U.S. whenever possible. However, there are many cases in which foreign-built vessels or vessels of unknown build
can contribute to U.S. commerce, especially those operating as commercial
passenger vessels. The Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) -- contained within the Jones Act -- authorizes MARAD to waive the U.S. build requirement in certain circumstances. These are known as Small Vessel Waivers.
To be eligible for a Small Vessel Waiver, the vessel must:
be owned by a U.S. citizen or organization,
be at least three years old,
intend to carry passengers only,
carry no more than 12 passengers at a time when in service, and
satisfy a series of separate U.S. Coast Guard requirements
engines certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as recreational engines are in some cases prohibited from being used for commercial purposes. To learn more about how the US Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations
may apply for your vessel, please visit EPA’s Domestic Marine Diesel Engine
Web Page (EPA’s Domestic Marine Diesel Engine
Web Page) or send an email
How Does It Work?
Owner of the vessel submits an application for the Small Vessel Waiver via web or traditional mail. See this guidance document for details about the application process.
MARAD publishes a Public Notice in the Federal Register for 30 days, which notes the vessel details and intended use.
During the Public Notice period, MARAD uses all sources available to determine if the issuance of a waiver will negatively impact U.S. vessel builders or the coastal trade business of any person who uses U.S.-built vessels.
If MARAD does not anticipate a negative impact, MARAD issues the waiver. MARAD approves most waiver requests.
The waiver becomes part of the vessel’s documentation and stays with the vessel if it is sold. After receiving a waiver, applicants should file for a Coastwise Trade Endorsement for the passenger trade with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) if the vessel does not already hold this endorsement. For information on meeting USCG requirements, contact the United States Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center online or at 1-800-799-8362.
Although the application for a Small Vessel Waiver can be submitted by mail, we highly recommend that owners apply using the online form and submit the $500 application fee using the online payment option. This will expedite the application process, which can take approximately two (2) to three (3) months once all materials are submitted.
Apply On-line (recommended)
Read this guidance document and make sure you are eligible for a Small Vessel Waiver.
Fill out and submit this online form (MA-1023).
After clicking "Submit", you will be taken to a Small Vessel Waiver page on pay.gov, which you can use to pay the non-refundable $500 application fee with a credit card or ACH Bank Account Debt.
MARAD prefers and recommends that vessel owners submit their applications and the related fee using the online form. If you are unable to submit your application using the online form, feel free to contact the Office of Cargo and Commercial Sealift at (202) 366-4610 Ext. 5, for further instructions, or submit by traditional mail:
Print form MA-1023 in PDF
Fill out all required fields
Mail the completed form to:
1200 New Jersey
, DC 20590
Attn: Bianca Carr W23-465
Go to the Small Vessel Waiver page on pay.gov and pay the non-refundable $500 application fee using a credit card or ACH Bank Account Debt.
Denials & Exceptions
A Small Vessel waiver does not waive any vessel documentation, manning, or inspection
requirement per United States Coast Guard law.
MARAD no longer issues waivers for “All coasts of the United States.” In the application's Geographic Location space, list ALL States of intended operation (i.e., New York
Owners of U.S.-built vessels operating in certain geographic areas have demonstrated to MARAD that the introduction
of foreign-built vessels would have an undue adverse affect on U.S. commerce in that area. MARAD will not issue waiver in these areas. Contact the Office of Cargo and Commercial Sealift with questions.
Vessels that carry out activities such as carriage of cargo, commercial fishing, towing, dredging and salvage
do NOT qualify for a Small Vessel waiver. Sport fishing vessels are permitted as long as caught fish
are not sold commercially.
MARAD can and will revoke a waiver if it is determined that any instance of fraud occurred during the application process.
For questions, contact the Office of Cargo and Commercial Sealift at Cargo.MARAD@dot.gov
or 202-366-4610 (press 5 for coastwise team).
Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2019