Small Vessel Waiver Program

The Maritime Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, can now, in certain cases, issue a waiver of the U.S. build requirement for foreign vessels or vessels of unknown build to operate in the United States as commercial passenger vessels.

In order to implement the law allowing for small passenger vessel waivers, a set of procedures has been established to expedite the waiver process. As part of the application procedure, the Maritime Administration requires:

  1. A non-refundable $500 application fee per waiver request.
  2. A completed application (discussed below.)
  3. A period of public notice, which will include the publication of the intended use of the vessel for a period of 30-days in the Federal Register.

After the public notice period the Maritime Administration will use all sources available to determine if the issuance of the waiver will cause an “undue adverse affect” on existing operators and shipbuilders. If we believe that providing a waiver would cause undue damage, we will not issue a waiver. Lastly, there is a review procedure and a waiver revocation process if it has been determined that there was fraud at the time of application. Most waiver requests are approved.

Once a waiver is obtained, it becomes part of the vessel’s documentation and stays with the vessel if it is sold.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

There are some basic requirements for a vessel to qualify for a waiver under this program:

  1. The vessel must be at least three years old.
  2. The vessel, when in service, cannot carry more than 12 passengers.
  3. The intended use must be to carry passengers only. Activities such as carriage of cargo, commercial fishing, towing, dredging and salvage do not qualify for this program. Sport fishing is permitted as long as the fish caught are not sold commercially.
  4. The vessel must be owned by a U.S.-Citizen.

Originally, the Maritime Administration required that applicant vessels be a minimum of 5 net tons. However, this requirement was not in the enabling statute and prevented the Maritime Administration from considering waiver requests from small vessels, therefore, we eliminated it. The vessel must meet all other U.S. Coast Guard requirements for a Coastwise Trade Endorsement before it can engage in commercial service.

This is not a waiver of any vessel documentation, vessel manning or vessel inspection requirements. Once a waiver is received, the applicant should file for a Coastwise Trade Endorsement for the passenger trade with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

For information on meeting USCG requirements, please contact the Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center on 1-800-799-8362.

How to Make an Application

While the application for this program can be sent by mail, we recommend that you apply via the Internet and pay the $500 application fee online to expedite your application (see below).

Please note that the Maritime Administration no longer issues waivers for any “coasts of the United States.” In the Geographic Location space, list all States of intended operation (i.e., New York, Florida, etc.).

Please note that the waiver process takes approximately 2-3 months.

To complete an online waiver request, click below:
Application Instructions
Request for Small Vessel Waiver of the Passenger Vessel Services Act – Fill In/Submit FORM MA-1023 in HTML Format
Request for Small Vessel Waiver of the Passenger Vessel Services Act – PRINT/VIEW FORM MA-1023 in PDF Format

The Maritime Administration prefers that applications, including the $500 application fee, be submitted electronically above. If you are unable to submit your application electronically, please call us for further instructions.

General inquiries may be addressed to:
Linda Williams
Tel: (202) 366-0903