The U.S. Congress long ago recognized the difficulty of enforcing land-based protections for workers on the high seas. As a result, the federal government established the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, often referred to as the Jones Act. This law outlines the rights and regulations regarding seamen and their employers. Understanding the Jones Act is important if you work away from dry land because many misconceptions have sprung up in regards to the law of the sea.
With respect to the second, or substantial connection prong of the test, Supreme court emphasized that the "fundamental purpose" of this requirement is "to separate the sea-based maritime employees who are entitled to Jones Act protection from those land-based workers who have only a transitory or sporadic connection to a vessel in navigation, and therefore whose employment does not regularly expose them to the perils of the sea."
Court's have continue to struggle towards a working criteria to mark the boundaries between seamen and land workers. The difference is important in regard to filing a claim for bodily injury. Those having seaman status are afforded the right to sue an employer for full tort damages which include past and future wage and related economic losses and pain and suffering. These rights arise under a federal statute known as the Jones Act 46 (USCA §30104) and under the General Maritime Law. The former allows a negligence based action, the latter an "unseaworthiness action". Those not having seaman status are limited to compensation under a State or Federal Workers' Compensation statute. Workers compensation statutes do not allow compensation for pain and suffering and allow only limited coverage for wage and economic losses. Other important differences between the two schemes are 1) filing dates, statutes of limitations and criteria to establish the claim.