How Does the Jones Act Protect Workers on Ships?

Are You a Worker on a Ship Wondering How the Jones Act Safeguards Workers on Ships?

The Jones Act, a beacon of maritime legislation, safeguards your rights and ensures your safety on the oceanic depths.

The Jones Act grants you protections that include access to top-notch medical care, compensation for any unfortunate injuries that befall you, and legal recourse in the face of negligence or wrongdoing. 

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 55102) ensures that merchandise transported between U.S. points must be carried exclusively on vessels meeting strict U.S. criteria. This includes being USA-built, USA citizen-owned and registered in the USA with American crews. [1]

The Jones Act is a federal law that provides protection and legal remedies for injured seamen who work on vessels in navigable waters. It ensures that the injured worker receives compensation for injuries caused by negligence or unseaworthiness of their employers’ vessels.

Under the Jones Act, seamen, which includes captains, crew members, and officers, are granted the right to maintenance and cure, which means that if they get injured or fall ill while on duty, their employer is responsible for providing them with necessary medical treatment and covering their living expenses until they recover.

The Jones Act also covers longshoremen, harbor workers, and other maritime employees who work on or near navigable waters. Similar to seamen, these workers are eligible for compensation if they suffer injuries or accidents while on duty. They can file claims against the ship’s owners seeking remedies for their losses, including medical costs, lost wages, loss of enjoyment, loss of quality of life, and punitive damages. [2]

In addition, seamen are entitled to compensation for accidents and injuries that occur due to negligence or unseaworthiness of the vessel. The compensation can include damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of wages, and future economic losses. [3]

The Jones Act provisions grant the right to sue an employer for damages resulting from injuries suffered while at work. It establishes a negligence standard, requiring employers to provide a reasonably safe working environment.

If an employer’s negligence or unseaworthy conditions contributed to an injury, a negligence claim can be filed and compensation may be sought for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related damages.

What Is the Jones Act?

Rights of Seamen Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act, officially known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal law that governs maritime shipping in the United States. Its primary purpose is to protect and promote the American maritime industry and ensure the welfare of seamen.

As mentioned before, the Act enables seamen who have been injured at sea during their employment to bring a personal injury action against their employers for the negligence of the vessel owners. It operates by extending existing legislation, which allowed for recoveries by railroad workers, to also apply to sailors. [4]

If a seaman dies due to such personal injury, the personal representative of the seaman can pursue a damages lawsuit with the right to a jury trial. All statutes of the United States governing actions for death in the case of railway employees shall apply in this circumstance. Jurisdiction relates to where the defendant’s employer resides or where their principal office is located. [4]

Seaman Status

The seaman status concept under the Jones Act provides significant legal protections for sailors and maritime workers in the United States. An individual must be considered a seaman to be entitled to the benefits and remedies provided by the Jones Act. To qualify as a seaman, the individual must meet two main requirements. [5]

  • The 30 percent rule, which states that the individual must spend at least 30 percent of their total working hours on a vessel, ensures that the individual is primarily engaged in maritime employment and contributes to the functioning and operation of the vessel.
  • The vessel on which the individual serves must be afloat, in operation, capable of movement, or on navigable waters. This means that the vessel must be in a condition fit for its intended purpose and must be engaged in activities related to maritime commerce or navigation.

These criteria, among others, are used to determine whether an individual qualifies for seaman status under the Jones Act. Only maritime workers who qualify as seaman can file a suit for damages under the Jones Act.

Rights of Seamen Under the Jones Act

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Lawsuit Under the Jones Act

Under the Jones Act, maritime law imposes a three-year Statute of Limitations on employees, meaning they have three years from the time of the injury to file a personal injury claim. Failure to do so within this timeframe may result in the dismissal of the seaman’s legal claim as time-barred. [6]

Contact our California or Florida workers’ compensation lawyers at Goldberg & Loren today to discuss your rights under the Jones Act.


The Jones Act, or the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal law in the United States that provides protections for workers on ships engaged in domestic maritime trade.

The Jones Act grants seamen the right to maintenance and cure, which means that their employers must provide them with essential living expenses and cover their medical expenses for injuries or illnesses suffered while working on the vessel. Seamen also have the right to sue their employers for negligence or unseaworthiness resulting in an accident or injury.

Yes, the Jones Act prohibits employer retaliation against seamen who assert their rights or file claims under the law. It ensures that workers can exercise their rights without fearing adverse employment actions.


[1] Kenton, W. (2023, January 5). What Is the Jones Act? Definition, History, and Costs. Investopedia.

[2] U.S.C. Title 46 – SHIPPING. (n.d.).

[3] H. Rept. 111-521 – SECURING PROTECTIONS FOR THE INJURED FROM LIMITATIONS ON LIABILITY ACT. (n.d.). Congress.Gov. Retrieved March 7, 2024, from

[4] 46 USC App 688: Recovery for injury to or death of seaman. (n.d.).

[5] 7.1 Seaman Status | Model Jury Instructions. (n.d.).

[6] 46 USC App 763a: Limitations. (n.d.).

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