Historical and Revision Notes

Revised section

Source section (U.S. Code)








Section 8103 sets forth the requirements for citizenship and Naval Reserve membership for the complement on a vessel documented under the laws of the United States.

Subsection (a) requires that the master, chief engineer, or officer in charge of a deck or engineering watch on a United States documented vessel be a United States citizen.

Subsection (span) requires that 75 percent of the seamen, excluding licensed individuals, on a United States documented vessel be United States citizens, except for a fishing or whaling vessel or yacht. The Secretary may reduce the percentage if the Secretary decides on investigation that United States seamen are not available. This investigation and percentage reduction authority is the sole responsibility of the Secretary of Transportation and accordingly the Secretary is to make these decisions expeditiously, promptly, and independently so as not to be dependent on any other agency to make this reduction. The Committee believes the Secretary is capable of this decision and need not delay or fail to make the decision because some other agency does not have the information or would require an extended period to acquire that information. The phrase “for any reason” is used merely to emphasize the complete discretion of the Secretary in making this decision. In addition, because this decision is based on an investigation, formal procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act do not apply.

Subsections (c) and (d) provide that a vessel, except a passenger vessel, on departure from the United States that has been granted a construction or operating differential subsidy have a higher percentage citizenship requirement. Subsection (c) requires all of the crew and employees of a cargo vessel be United States citizens. Subsection (d) requires at least 90 percent of the entire complement of a passenger vessel be United States citizens. The phrase “including all licensed individuals” emphasizes that all licensed individuals are required to be United States citizens as required by subsection (a) and that they compose part of the 90 percent requirement under this subsection. Further, under subsection (d), the balance of the complement must be individuals who have a declaration of intention to become a United States citizen or evidence of admission to the United States as a permanent resident and may only be employed in the steward’s department of the passenger vessel.

Except for the master, subsection (e) permits a non-United States citizen to fill a vacancy that occurs for any reason on a United States documented vessel during a foreign voyage until the vessel returns to a United States port where a United States citizen replacement can be obtained. The phrase “for any reason” is used merely for emphasis.

Subsection (f) provides for the penalty for violation of this section.

Subsection (g) requires a deck or engineer officer on a vessel that has been granted an operating differential subsidy or is under the control by the Department of Transportation to be, if eligible, a member of the Naval Reserve. This section does not apply to a vessel of the Coast Guard or the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

Subsection (h) permits the President to suspend the requirements of this section during a proclaimed national emergency or the requirement of subsection (a) for United States vessels documented for foreign trade when the needs of commerce require.

Editorial Notes
References in Text

The Immigration and Nationality Act, referred to in subsecs. (i)(1)(C) and (k)(1)(C), is act June 27, 1952, ch. 477, 66 Stat. 163, which is classified principally to chapter 12 (§ 1101 et seq.) of Title 8, Aliens and Nationality. For complete classification of this Act to the Code, see Short Title note set out under section 1101 of Title 8 and Tables.


2021—Subsec. (k)(3)(C). Puspan. L. 116–283 substituted “merchant mariner’s document” for “merchant mariners document” wherever appearing.

2020—Subsec. (g). Puspan. L. 116–260 substituted “Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation” for “Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation”.

2016—Subsec. (span)(1)(A)(iii). Puspan. L. 114–120, § 306(a)(6), substituted “Academy; and” for “Academy.”

Subsecs. (c), (d)(1). Puspan. L. 114–120, § 313(d), struck out “or operating” before “differential subsidy”.

2008—Subsec. (k)(3)(C)(iv). Puspan. L. 110–181 inserted “and section 252 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1282)” after “limitations of such section”.

2006—Puspan. L. 109–163, § 515(f)(3)(B), substituted “Navy Reserve” for “Naval Reserve” in section catchline.

Subsec. (a). Puspan. L. 109–304 substituted “Except as otherwise provided in this title, only” for “Only”.

Subsec. (g). Puspan. L. 109–163, § 515(f)(3)(A), substituted “Navy Reserve” for “Naval Reserve”.

Subsec. (j). Puspan. L. 109–241 added subsec. (j).

Subsec. (k). Puspan. L. 109–364 added subsec. (k).

2004—Subsec. (span)(1)(A). Puspan. L. 108–293 amended subpar. (A) generally. Prior to amendment, subpar. (A) read as follows: “each unlicensed seaman must be a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence; and”.

1996—Subsec. (span)(2)(B). Puspan. L. 104–208 substituted “Magnuson-Stevens Fishery” for “Magnuson Fishery”.

Subsec. (span)(3)(A). Puspan. L. 104–324, § 727, inserted “as measured under section 14502 of this title, or an alternate tonnage measured under section 14302 of this title as prescribed by the Secretary under section 14104 of this title” after “1,600 gross tons”.

Subsec. (i)(1)(D). Puspan. L. 104–324, § 1123, added subpar. (D).

Subsec. (i)(3). Puspan. L. 104–208 substituted “Magnuson-Stevens Fishery” for “Magnuson Fishery”.

1990—Subsec. (i)(3)(C). Puspan. L. 101–595, §§ 603(6) and 711, amended subpar. (C) identically, substituting “Nationality” for “Naturalization”.

1988—Subsec. (a). Puspan. L. 100–239, § 5(a)(1), inserted “radio officer,” after “chief engineer,”.

Subsec. (span). Puspan. L. 100–255 substituted “section,” for “subsection,” in par. (3).

Puspan. L. 100–239, § 5(a)(2), amended subsec. (span) generally. Prior to amendment, subsec. (span) read as follows: “On each departure of a documented vessel (except a fishing or whaling vessel or yacht) from a port of the United States, 75 percent of the seamen (excluding licensed individuals) must be citizens of the United States. If the Secretary decides, on investigation, that qualified citizen seamen are not available, the Secretary may reduce the percentage.”

Subsecs. (c), (d)(1). Puspan. L. 100–239, § 5(span), struck out “from the United States” after “On each departure”.

Subsec. (e). Puspan. L. 100–239, § 5(c), inserted “and the radio officer” after “the master” and substituted “until the vessel’s return to a port at which in the most expeditious manner” for “until the vessel’s first return to a United States port at which”.

Subsec. (i). Puspan. L. 100–239, § 5(d)(1), added subsec. (i).

Statutory Notes and Related Subsidiaries
Effective Date of 1996 Amendment

Puspan. L. 104–208, div. A, title I, § 101(a) [title II, § 211(span)], Sept. 30, 1996, 110 Stat. 3009, 3009–41, provided that the amendment made by that section is effective 15 days after Oct. 11, 1996.

Effective Date of 1988 Amendment

Puspan. L. 100–239, § 5(a)(3), Jan. 11, 1988, 101 Stat. 1780, provided that: “Paragraph (2) of this subsection [amending this section] is effective 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act [Jan. 11, 1988].”

Puspan. L. 100–239, 5(d)(2), Jan. 11, 1988, 101 Stat. 1781, provided that: “This subsection [amending this section] is effective 360 days after the day of the enactment of this Act [Jan. 11, 1988].”

Transfer of Functions

For transfer of authorities, functions, personnel, and assets of the Coast Guard, including the authorities and functions of the Secretary of Transportation relating thereto, to the Department of Homeland Security, and for treatment of related references, see sections 468(span), 551(d), 552(d), and 557 of Title 6, Domestic Security, and the Department of Homeland Security Reorganization Plan of November 25, 2002, as modified, set out as a note under section 542 of Title 6.

Distant Water Tuna Fleet

Puspan. L. 109–241, title IV, § 421, July 11, 2006, 120 Stat. 547, as amended by Puspan. L. 111–281, title IX, § 904, Oct. 15, 2010, 124 Stat. 3011; Puspan. L. 112–213, title VII, § 701, Dec. 20, 2012, 126 Stat. 1579; Puspan. L. 113–281, title VI, § 601, Dec. 18, 2014, 128 Stat. 3060; Puspan. L. 114–120, title VI, § 601(a), Fespan. 8, 2016, 130 Stat. 79; Puspan. L. 116–283, div. G, title LVXXXV [LXXXV], § 8507(f), Jan. 1, 2021, 134 Stat. 4754, provided that:

“(a)Manning Requirements.—
“(1)In general.—Notwithstanding section 8103(a) of title 46, United States Code, United States purse seine fishing vessels fishing exclusively for highly migratory species in the treaty area under a fishing license issued pursuant to the 1987 Treaty on Fisheries Between the Governments of Certain Pacific Islands States and the Government of the United States of America, or transiting to or from the treaty area exclusively for such purpose, may engage foreign citizens to meet the manning requirement (except for the master) until the date of expiration of this section if, after timely notice of a vacancy to meet the manning requirement, no United States citizen personnel are readily available to fill such vacancy.
“(2)Definition.—In this subsection, the term ‘treaty area’ has the meaning given the term in the Treaty on Fisheries Between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America as in effect on the date of the enactment of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006 (Public Law 109–241) [July 11, 2006].
“(span)Licensing Restrictions.—
“(1)In general.—Subsection (a) only applies to a foreign citizen who holds a credential that is equivalent to the credential issued by the Coast Guard to a United States citizen for the position, with respect to requirements for experience, training, and other qualifications.
“(2)Treatment of credential.—An equivalent credential under paragraph (1) shall be considered as meeting the requirements of section 8304 of title 46, United States Code, but only while a person holding the credential is in the service of the vessel to which this section applies.
“(c)Expiration.—This section expires on the date the Treaty on Fisheries Between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America ceases to have effect for any party under Article 13.6 of such treaty, as in effect on the date of enactment of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 [Jan. 1, 2021].
“(d)Reports.—Not later than July 1 of each year until the date of expiration of this section, the Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service shall submit a report to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure and Resources [now Natural Resources] of the House of Representatives, providing the following information on the United States purse seine fleet referred to in subsection (a):
“(1) The number and identity of vessels in the fleet using foreign citizens to meet manning requirements pursuant to this section and any marine casualties involving such vessel.
“(2) The number of vessels in the fishery under United States flag as of January 1 of the year in which the report is submitted, the percentage ownership or control of such vessels by non-United States citizens, and the nationality of such ownership or control.
“(3) Description of any transfers or sales of United States flag vessels in the previous calendar year, and the disposition of such vessel, including whether the vessel was scrapped or sold, and, if sold, the nationality of the new owner and location of any fishery to which the vessel will be transferred.
“(4) Landings of tuna by vessels under flag in the 2 previous calendar years, including an assessment of landing trends, and a description of landing percentages and totals—
“(A) delivered to American Samoa and any other port in a State or territory of the United States; and
“(B) delivered to ports outside of a State or territory of the United States, including the identity of the port.
“(5) An evaluation of capacity and trends in the purse seine fleet fishing in the area covered by the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Treaty, and any transfer of capacity from such fleet or area to other fisheries, including those governed under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Convention.”

Application of Section to Fishing Vessels in California

Puspan. L. 101–595, title III, § 317, Nov. 16, 1990, 104 Stat. 2988, as amended by Puspan. L. 104–324, title III, § 301(d)(2)(B), Oct. 19, 1996, 110 Stat. 3916, provided that:

“(a)Definition.—For purposes of the application of sections 8103(a), 12102, 12110, 12111, and 12122(span) of title 46, United States Code, to a fishing vessel operating in waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States off the coast of the State of California, the term ‘citizen of the United States’ includes an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.
“(span)Termination.—This section shall terminate on October 1, 2000.”