Why can't cruise passengers begin and end their trips within the U.S.?

We’re going on a cruise in May, and the tickets and other stuff arrived in the mail a couple of days ago. While looking over the materials covering the general rules, laws, and conditions of passage, I was startled to read that it’s illegal to board a ship in, say, San Diego, and then leave the ship in, say, San Francisco. You can get off the ship in S.F., as long as you re-embark and continue your journey by ship. But if you completely leave the ship in S.F., you’d be liable for a $300 fine (not to mention the partially unused shipboard fare which you’d forfeit).

This explains why all the Royal Carribean cruises from Hawaii to North America end in Ensenada, BC, rather than LA or SF.

Does anyone have an idea what the purpose of this law is?

The Jones Act requires that domestic shipping routes must use American ships and an American crew. The vast, vast majority of cruise ships are registered in foreign countries, therefore they cannot go from US port to US port.

This is the only link I can find offhand that describes this part of the Jones Act, but it has an agenda. Other provisions of the Jones Act relate to injuries of sailors.


The law applies only to foreign ships. Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (46 U.S.C. 289):

What is this purpose of such laws? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Wow, thanks!

I didn’t expect to get an answer at all, let alone so quickly.

The Jones Act was, so I’m informed, passed in large measure to assure that we retained a functional Merchant Marine, but with another, hidden agenda – to benefit the shippers plying between Puget Sound and the Alaskan ports, by ensuring that anything and everything shipped to and from Alaska had to be carried by them.

BTW, the name for the general class of laws represented by the Jones act is “cabotage laws”, cabotage referring to trade or navigation in coastal waters (it now also refers to the right of a nation to regulate air traffic in its airspace). Many, if not most, maritime nations have some form of cabotage laws. There’s a lot of discussion about opening them up in some places, and the EU forced members to lift cabotage restrictions on each other. But cabotage restrictions are still very much a part of all international maritime trade.

Domestic shipping? Aren’t cruise ships, just for cruising? Or do a lot of cruise ships carry freight as well?

“Shipping” is not defined as freight in this context but rather as “vesselage.” Churchill during WWII asked on several occasions how many troops the available shipping would carry.

The USDOT explanation is simply surreal in the 21st century. The Jones Act, and a host of other factors, have worked so well that the US doesn’t have a commercial shipbuilding industry worth mentioning anymore. That’s a good thing in that we aren’t going to fight World War II again, anyway. The world’s shipping is crewed by various Third World people making a pittance, not unionized Americans. It uses flags of convenience, not US registries. It’s not hard to argue that the Jones Act is as much a relic of the discredited protectionist years as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, but we had the sense to get rid of that long ago.

Relic of an earlier era they might be, but in addition to having maritime cabotage laws, most nations extended them to air travel when that came in. Protectionism vs. Free Trade is a debate that will probably always be with us, in one guise or another.

BTW in case it’s not clear yet, you CAN begin and end your trip on a foreign-flag cruise ship in a US port (Miami, San Juan, Long Beach) but it has to be the same port. If you end your journey at a different port (except for reasons beyond your control), that was not a cruise, but actual passage, and you run into the Jones Act.

BTW it applies not only to the States, but to the overseas territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.

I had a friend who’s parents moved back to the US after living overseas for a number of years. They came back on the QE2 and shipped their possessions back with them on the ship, including their car.

Knowing zip about maritime law (despite having a maritime lawyer for a neighbor!), my first thought was that the law was intended to favor air travel over ship travel.

Well, why do you think it’s so cheap to take a luxury cruise? And aren’t a shitload of Americans every year working for these lines? When I was in college you could hardly pass through a corridor without seeing an add for students to earn some money working on one.

There was an article in the Economist last fall (I believe) where they had run the numbers and determined that the price between an old persons home and living on Princess Cruises (and such) would be about the same.

Not on any cruise I’ve taken lately. Indonesians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, and Eastern Europeans mainly.

FWIW, there’s a thriving American and Canadian shipping industry on the huge St. Lawrence system. It’s more common to see US and Canadian ships running up and down the St. Clair river than it is foreign flagged vessels by a loooong way.

In my limited experience I’ve noticed a smattering of flag-country employees (i.e. Dutch or Swedish), but they seem to be mainly in the better-paid positions. When I went on a Royal Carribean cruise years ago, the officers and ship’s doctor, and nurse, were Swedish.

Right, cruise lines marketing to Americans and Europeans do seem to have the positions interacting most directly and personally with the passengers assigned to Americans and Europeans. But if you look at the ship’s actual crew, the merchant mariners the Jones Act is purportedly aimed at, that’s not going to be the case. You’ll see perhaps Greek and Italian officers, but Honduran crewmen.

Of course, you may have then observed that many cabotage laws were enacted long before air travel was concieved of. The Jones Act itself was passed in 1920, when air travel was on the horizon, but you will note that the passenger service restriction Walloon quoted was dated 1886. They just decided it was a good idea for air travel, too, and if you poke around you will find that airlines and air freight services have various cabotage restrictions to deal with also.