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Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA)

The Program

MARAD's Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) program is a partnership between the U.S. Government and the maritime industry to provide the Department of Defense (DoD) with assured access to state-of-the-art commercial sealift and intermodal equipment when DoD deploys military forces during a national emergency or wartime operations.

The VISA program is authorized under the Defense Production Act of 1950 and Maritime Security Act of 2003, and was approved as a Department of Defense commercial sealift readiness program on January 30, 1997. Official documentation can be found on the Federal Register.

How it Works

The VISA program operates on a straightforward model: a variety of specialized U.S.-flag vessels agree to volunteer their time and intermodal capacity during wartime in exchange for Cargo Preference during peacetime.

Intermodal capacity includes dry cargo ships, equipment, terminal facilities and intermodal management services. Vessel operators willing to volunteer in VISA simply enroll their vessel in the program and make it available upon DoD request. To maximize resources and minimize disruption to U.S. commercial operations, the VISA program can activate its pool of vessels in three stages, each stage (determined by DoD) representing a higher commitment percentage of intermodal capacity:

  • Stage I typically requires...
  • Stage II increases the capacity commitment to...
  • Stage III requires a commitment of 50 percent capacity from most vessel types, with dry cargo vessels committing up to 100 percent.

U.S.-flag vessel operators that are not currently in the program can enroll their vessels in the VISA program at any time: 

  • Enrollment in the program is voluntary, but participation when DoD activates your vessel(s) is mandatory.
  • Enrollment does not result in direct financial compensation, but enrolled vessels are offered Cargo Preference.
  • There is no limit to the number of vessels that can enroll.
  • See a list of current vessels enrolled in the VISA program.


To enroll in VISA, or for questions about any aspect of the program, contact the Office of Sealift Support.

Updated: Wednesday, December 11, 2019