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
For more information about the PVSA, talk with Anita,
your professional travel advisor.
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