What Is a Jones Act Vessel?
The answer to this question changed in 2005. At that time, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the definition of a vessel to include every description of watercraft or artificial structure capable of being used for transportation on water. As such, the term vessel is no longer restricted to conventional watercraft such as ships, barges, tugs, and special purpose vessels such as jack-up and semi-submersible drilling rigs and other mobile offshore drilling units. The term vessel has been expanded to include unpowered floating structures such as dredges and pontoon rafts.
Many people have questions about the Jones Act status of oil rigs, dredges, and MODU, to name a few. If there is question as to whether or not a vessel classifies as a Jones Act vessel, it would be best to consult a seasoned maritime attorney.
Jones Act vessels must be registered in the U.S. Our laws require that crewmembers be American citizens or legal aliens. Cabotage laws, what the Jones Act falls under, requires also that the ships must be built and owned by the United States in order to qualify as a Jones Act vessel. They must all be registered under the American flag.
US Code, Title 1, Chapter 1 states that a vessel is "every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water."