The Jones Act, which is also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 is a law that protects and provides for merchant marines and seamen working in the U.S. maritime industry. The law regulates commerce by waterways in the U.S., ensures that vessels follow U.S. law, and gives seamen and mariners the right to protect themselves in the event that an employer is negligent in an injury or fatality.


Rights for Mariners under the Jones Act
The Jones Act provides merchant marines and seamen the right to seek damages from employers. This right is important because employers in this dangerous industry have a responsibility to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of workers. When they do not, they can be considered negligent and the Jones Act provides workers the ability to seek compensation.


The right also extends to surviving loved ones. If the worker dies on the job and negligence was involved, that person’s surviving dependents may pursue compensation. The burden of proof is low, which means that the seaman only has to prove that the employer was negligent and that the negligent action, or inaction, contributed in some way to the injury or fatality.


How the Jones Act Supports the U.S. Military
The Jones Act is important to the maritime industry as a whole because it provides regulations that push seafaring vessels and maritime companies to follow U.S. law. The right it gives seamen and mariners to pursue damages also pushes employers to provide safe working environments. The U.S. Navy relies on a reliable, functioning, and safe maritime industry. The military can call on ships, personnel, ports and terminals, cargo tracking systems, and other parts of the maritime infrastructure during war time. Keeping this industry in top condition means that it will be ready for military use as needed.


Using the Jones Act
The Jones Act is used by mariners and seamen all the time to ensure they get compensation after being injured. As an example, a tugboat deckhand was hurt in 2011 after moving heavy hydraulic cylinders. Because the employer did not provide a safe way to lift them, the worker was injured and invoked the Jones Act to seek compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and more.


The importance of the Jones Act to protecting individuals and their rights, to providing safe and law-abiding work environments in the maritime industry, and to the U.S. military cannot be overstated.


Dan Griffin is one of the editors at Maritime Injury Center. With a background in social sciences, Dan writes for Maritime Injury Center and reports on major accidents at sea. To view some of his recent writings, please visit