HomeLibraryJones ActWhat is a Vessel, and How is a Vessel Defined for Jones Act Laws?

What is a Vessel, and How is a Vessel Defined for Jones Act Laws?


While most people are aware that a vessel is another word for boat, ship, etc, the term “vessel” holds specific meaning when it comes to Maritime Injury Law. Often people will hear of Jones Act ships or Jones Act vessels and not really understand what that means or how it relates to them; this article will explain what a vessel is and why it’s important to maritime personal injury claims.

vessel, Jones Act vessel

So, Exactly What is a Vessel?

Traditionally, the features that may defined vessels included

  • navigational aids,
  • lifeboats or life-saving equipment,
  • a raked bow,
  • bilge pumps,
  • crew quarters or
  • Coast Guard registration.

It is easy to recognize cargo ships, barges, tugboats, fishing boats, and cruise ships as vessels that fit this description. The Louisiana oil industry, in particular, has a wide variety of structures that qualify as vessels.

Traditionally, vehicles such as cargo ships and crew boats have satisfied the vessel requirement, and in some cases, special purpose vessels may satisfy the requirement as well.

A Vessel Must be Mobile and Able to Navigate

It is important that vessels possess mobility and the capacity to navigate, unlike fixed structures such as drydocks and bridges, yet it need not have been in motion at the time of your accident.  If your injuries were sustained aboard a vehicle being used, or capable of being used as a means of transit on the water, even if anchored or moored at the time of your injury, the vehicle will likewise meet the vessel requirement under the Act.

Navigation Does Not Have to be its Primary Purpose to be Considered a Vessel

In 2005, the Supreme Court decided that in the case of Stewart vs. Dutra Construction, for Jones Act purposes, a vessel includes “every description of Watercraft or other artificial contrivance used or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” It was argued that because the dredge was used for digging trenches and not for transportation or commercial purposes, that it did not qualify as a vessel; however, the Supreme Court disagreed.  The Court clarified the term “vessel” to include watercraft that is “practically capable of being used to transport people, freight, or cargo from place to place,” but did not require that the craft is used primarily for such purposes.  Therefore, if a vehicle is capable of mobility on the water, even if transportation of people, goods, equipment, etc. is not its primary function, it will qualify as a “vessel.”

Vessels May Include Special Purpose Watercrafts

The current definition of vessel may also include special purpose vessels such as

  • floating dormitories,
  • jack-up and semi-submersible rigs,
  • mobile offshore drilling units,
  • dredges, and
  • pontoon rafts.

A vessel is not required to be self-propelled; docks, tension leg platforms and floating work platforms, and even floating casinos may qualify in many cases. This can be confusing if you are trying to figure out your legal rights.

Vessels Must Be Owned by an American Entity

Vessels must be owned by an American individual or an American company. To be considered a Jones Act seaman, a worker must be the master, or member of a Jones Act vessel’s crew.

Why it Matters: Qualifying as a Seaman

The Jones Act is a federal act that protects workers injured while at sea; however, determining Jones Act status may be confusing. In order for the Jones Act to apply to your case, you must qualify as a “seaman” and be assigned to a “vessel” or fleet of vessels at the time of your accident.

In order for a maritime worker to be considered a seaman under the Jones Act, he must be injured while working on a vessel. But, the term “vessel” encompasses a variety of sea-going watercraft that are used to transport good or passengers over navigable waters.

Finally, it is important that an injured worker also prove that his duties contributed to the vessel’s function or mission and that his connection to the vessel was “substantial both in nature and duration.”  If your injuries occurred while employed in such a capacity, aboard a craft capable of waterborne navigation, the “vessel” provision under the Jones Act will be satisfied. Jones Act seamen are eligible for protection under Jones Act law. The Jones Act allows injured maritime workers to directly sue their employer and to collect damages for injuries caused by the employer’s negligence.

The definition of a Jones Act vessel can be of utmost importance in determining the outcome of a Jones Act damages case. If you have been injured on the sea, but are not sure if you work on a Jones Act vessel, a maritime lawyer can help determine which laws apply to your case.

If you have questions, an experienced Jones Act Lawyer can best help to determine your rights to compensation. Contact a Louisiana maritime injury attorney at The Young Firm at (866) 938-6113 to schedule a free case consultation.

More articles on the Jones Act:



have a question?