If you love to cruise, the world is yours: 70% of the earth is covered by water, much of it navigable by cruise ship. But if you’re interested in a cruise that visits only U.S. ports, you may be surprised by how few U.S.-only itineraries are available. The reason? The Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) of 1886.
The PVSA, created to help promote U.S. shipping interests, prevents foreign-flagged ships from carrying passengers from one U.S. port to another, unless they also stop at a foreign port. Today, most cruise ships are built and flagged in countries other than the U.S., which means the PVSA applies to most cruises that depart from and return to a U.S. port.
You may hear or read that the Jones Act is the reason cruises that depart from and return to U.S. ports must call on a foreign port, but that’s a misconception. The Jones Act (or Merchant Marine Act) of 1920 is a similar law, but it applies to sailing with cargo rather than people; it has nothing to do with cruise ships.
To meet the requirements of the PVSA, roundtrip cruises that begin and end at the same U.S. port can stop at any foreign port; a call in Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexico or Central America will do. But, itineraries that embark from one U.S. port and end at a different U.S. port – for example, those that go through the Panama Canal – are required to stop at a more “distant” port, such as Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, or Cartagena, Columbia.
U.S.-only itineraries on ships built and flagged in the U.S. are exempt from the PVSA; examples include some U.S. river cruises, some Alaskan itineraries, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Hawaiian cruises on the Pride of America.
Cruise lines carefully plan their itineraries to comply with the PVSA and avoid the fine of $798 per passenger for a violation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection can waive these fines in certain situations, such as when a ship can’t call on the foreign port due to bad weather.
It’s also possible for an individual to violate the PVSA: for example, say you’re on a roundtrip cruise from Miami that calls on the foreign port of Cozumel, Mexico. If you decide to return to Miami before the ship reaches Cozumel, that’s a violation of the PVSA.
For more information about the PVSA, talk with Anita, your professional travel advisor.
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