United States International Trade Commision Rulings And Harmonized Tariff Schedule
faqs.org  Rulings By Number  Rulings By Category  Tariff Numbers
faqs.org > Rulings and Tariffs Home > Rulings By Number > 1991 HQ Rulings > HQ 0111062 - HQ 0111250 > HQ 0111106

Previous Ruling Next Ruling

HQ 111106

August 28, 1990

VES-3-02 CO:R:P:C 111106 JBW


Mr. Michael Chris Wold
1946 Fir Street
McMinnville, Oregon 97128

RE: Coastwise; Voyage to Nowhere; Foreign-Built Vessel; BRONWYN; 46 U.S.C. App. 289.

Dear Mr. Wold:

This letter is in response to your letter, dated June 12, 1990, requesting a ruling regarding the use of your foreign- built vessel, BRONWYN, in transporting passengers in the United States.


The BRONWYN is a racing sloop that was built by Souter & Sons in Cowes, England, in 1974. For the past six years, the vessel has been day sailing out of the Virgin Islands under a certificate of inspection issued by the United States Coast Guard. This certificate indicates that the vessel is forty-seven feet long, and its net tonnage is sixteen tons.

You state in your letter that you now intend to use the vessel on day sails from Maui, Hawaii, or Newport, Oregon. These trips will involve carrying passengers beyond the three-mile territorial limit and returning to the same dock from which the vessel departed. The passengers will not be permitted to fish or swim from the vessel.


Whether the carriage of passengers by a foreign-built vessel beyond the United States territorial limits is an engagement in the coastwise trade under United States law.


The coastwise passenger law provides that:

No foreign vessel shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States either directly or by way of a foreign port, under a penalty of $200 for each passenger so transported.

46 U.S.C. App. 289. The Customs Service has consistently interpreted this proscription to apply to any vessel except a United States built, owned, and properly documented vessel. See 46 U.S.C.A. 12106 & 12110 (West Supp. 1990), 46 U.S.C. App. 289, and 19 C.F.R. 4.80(a) (1989). We note, however, that the coastwise laws do not at the moment extend to the Virgin Islands. 46 U.S.C.A. App. 877 (West Supp. 1990).

In interpreting the coastwise laws as applied to the transportation of passengers, the Customs Service has ruled that the carriage of passengers entirely within territorial waters, even though the passengers disembark at their point of embarkation and the vessel touches no other point, is considered coastwise trade subject to the coastwise laws. E.g., Headquarters Ruling Letter 110990, dated May 21, 1990. However, the transportation of passengers to the high seas or foreign waters and back to the point of embarkation, often called a "voyage to nowhere," is not considered coastwise trade. Id. An important corollary to this rule is that a "voyage to nowhere" assumes the passengers do not leave the vessel, even temporarily, at another United States point. Id. The territorial waters of the United States consist of the territorial sea, defined as the belt, three nautical miles wide, adjacent to the coast of the United States and seaward of the territorial sea baseline.

Based on the foregoing provisions and interpretations, if the itineraries of the BRONWYN include only trips beyond the territorial limits, then such trips will not result in an engagement by the vessel in the coastwise trade. However, if the vessel stays within the territorial waters of the United States, then the prohibitions contained in the coastwise laws will apply to the voyage.

This ruling does not address issues within the purview of other governmental agencies, e.g., the United States Coast Guard for issues relating to vessel documentation, safety, and inspection requirements. If you wish to contact the Coast Guard about these matters, you may communicate with your local Coast Guard office or Coast Guard Headquarters at the following address:

Thomas Willis
Chief, Vessel Documentation
U.S. Coast Guard (GMVI-6/13)
2100 Second Street, S.W. (Room 1312)
Washington, D.C. 20593-001


The use of vessel to transport passengers on trips beyond the three-mile territorial limits departing from and returning to the same dock is not considered an engagement in the coastwise trade, provided the passengers do not leave the vessel at another United States point.


B. James Fritz

Previous Ruling Next Ruling