Glossary of Maritime Terms

American Bureau of Shipping (ABS): A United States organization that provides ships with a certification of compliance with standard rules of construction and maintenance.

Anchorage: The act of anchoring a vessel or its state of being anchored. Also, the portion of a harbor or area outside a harbor suitable for anchoring or in which ships are permitted to anchor.

Apron: The area in front or behind a wharf shed on which cargo is lifted. Cargo is unloaded from or loaded onto a ship on the “front apron” and then moved over the “rear apron into our out of railroad cars.

Backhaul: The return trip of a vehicle, as a vessel, transporting cargo or freight, especially when carrying goods back over all or part of the same route.

Barge: A capacious, flat-bottomed vessel, usually intended to be pushed or towed, for transporting freight or passengers. A single, standard barge can hold 1,500 tons of cargo or as much as either 15 railroad cars or 60 trucks can carry. A barge is 200 feet long, 35 feet wide and has a draft of 9 feet. Barges carry dry and liquid bulk.

Berth: The space allotted to a vessel at anchor or at a wharf. Also, the action of bringing to or installing in a berth, anchorage, or moorage.

Bill of lading: A detailed list of a shipment of goods in the form of a receipt given by the carrier to the person consigning the goods.

Bollard: A thick, low post, usually of iron or steel, mounted on a wharf or the like, to which mooring lines from vessels are attached.

Bonded warehouse: a building or other secured area in which dutiable goods may be stored, manipulated, or undergo manufacturing operations without payment of duty. It may be managed by the state or by a private enterprise.

Box: A casual name for a container.

Breakbulk cargo: Non-containerized general goods that must be loaded individually, and not in intermodal containers nor in bulk as with oil or grain. Some examples include steel, iron, machinery, wood pulp, or liner board.

Bulk cargo: Goods that are shipped loosely and unpackaged as opposed to being shipped in packages or containers. An item may be classified as bulk cargo if it is not containerized and easily secured on a vessel. Some examples include oil, grain, or coal.

Bulkhead: Any of various wall-like constructions inside a vessel, as for forming watertight compartments, subdividing space, or strengthening the structure.

Buoys: A distinctively shaped and marked float, sometimes carrying a signal or signals, anchored to mark a channel, anchorage, navigational hazard, etc., or to provide a mooring place away from the shore.

Cabotage: Trade along the coast. The United States and some other countries require such trade to be carried on domestic ships only.

Capacity: A vessel’s available space for or its ability to handle freight.

Captive cargo port: When most of a port’s inbound cargoes are being shipped short distances and most of its export products come from nearby areas, the port is called a captive cargo port (as opposed to a transit port).

Cargo: The lading or freight of a ship or vessel.

Carrier: An individual or company, such as a steamship line, engaged in transporting passengers or goods for profit.

Cartage: Originally the process of transporting by cart. Today, the term is used for transportation fees.

Chandlers: A dealer at sea that supplies ships with supplies, provisions, groceries, and similar needs. The name originally refers to someone who makes or sells candles, and it began to apply to ship suppliers for they would sell candles to the passing vessels when these were still a necessity.

Channels of distribution: A distribution channel is a chain of businesses or intermediaries through which a good or service passes until it reaches the final buyer or the end consumer, as well as the physical trajectory of the products in question.

Checkers: Also, clerks.

Chock: A piece of wood or other material put next to cargo to prevent it from shifting.

Civil service: The permanent professional branches of a government’s administration, excluding military and judicial branches and elected politicians.

Clerks: At the time of unloading cargo from a ship, the person in charge of checking the actual count of the goods (number of boxes, drums, bundles, pipes, etc.) versus the amount listed on the ship’s manifest. They will note shortages, overages, or damage, which is used to make claims if needed.

Common carrier: A carrier offering its services at published rates to all persons for interstate transportation.

Conference rate: Rates arrived at by conference of carriers applicable to water transportation.

Consignment: Property sent to an agent for sale, storage, or shipment.

Consolidated Freight Station (CFS): Location on terminal grounds where the stuffing and stripping of containers are conducted.

Consolidator: The person or firm that consolidates cargo from a number of different shippers into a container that will deliver the goods to several buyers.

Container: A box made of aluminum, steel or fiberglass used to transport cargo by ship, rail, truck or barge. Common dimensions are 20′ x 8’ x 8′ (called a TEU or twenty-foot equivalent unit) or 40′ x 8′ x 8′, called an FEU. Variations are collapsible containers, tank containers (for liquids) and “rag tops” (open-topped containers covered by a tarpaulin for cargo that sticks above the top of a closed box). In the container industry, containers are usually simply called boxes.

Container Freight Station (CFS): Location on terminal grounds where the stuffing and stripping of containers are conducted, most often in preparation for railroad transportation

Container chassis: A wheeled structure designed to carry marine containers for the purpose of truck movement between terminals and shipping facilities.

Container crane: A type of large dockside gantry crane found at container terminals for loading and unloading intermodal containers from container ships.

Container terminal: A facility where cargo containers are transshipped between different transport vehicles, for onward transportation. The transshipment may be between container ships and land vehicles, in which case the terminal is described as a maritime container port.

Containerization: A method of shipping freight in relatively uniform, sealed, movable containers whose contents do not have to be unloaded at each point of transfer.

Container on Flat Car (COFC): A container placed directly on a railroad flatcar without chassis.

Contraband: Goods imported or exported illegally: smuggling items in a manner prohibited by or not abiding the law.

Craft: A boat, a ship, or an airplane.

Customs: Duties imposed by law on imported or, less commonly, exported goods. Also, the government department that collects these duties.

Customs broker: Private individuals, partnerships, associations or corporations licensed, regulated and empowered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to assist importers and exporters in meeting Federal requirements governing imports and exports.

Dead Weight Tonnage (DWT): a measure of how much weight a ship can carry, not its weight, empty or in any degree of load. Instead, DWT is the sum of the weights of cargo, fuel, freshwater, ballast water, provisions, passengers, and crew.

Deadhead: When a truck returning from delivery has no return freight on the backhaul, it is said to be in deadhead.

Deck barge: A barge with a flat deck that is used both for transportation and construction support. The flat deck can hold hundreds of tons of machinery such as cranes and excavators. It also serves as a platform for holding oversized objects such as bridge sections for coastwise or inland transportation.

Demurrage: The detention in a port of a vessel by the shipowner, as in loading or unloading, beyond the time allowed or agreed upon.

Dock: The space or waterway between two piers or wharves, as for receiving a ship while in port. Also, to bring (a ship or boat) into a dock; lay up in a dock.

Dockage: The charge for the use of a dock. Also, the docking accommodations themselves or the act of docking a ship.

Draft: The depth of a loaded vessel in the water taken from the level of the waterline to the lowest point of the hull of the vessel; depth of water, or distance between the bottom of the ship and waterline.

Drayage: Transportation by truck for short distances; such as from a wharf to a warehouse.

Dredge: A waterborne machine that removes unwanted silt accumulations from the bottom of a waterway. Also, the process of removing sediment from harbor or river bottoms for safety purposes and to allow for deeper vessels.

Dry bulk: Unpackaged goods shipped in large parcels by sea and destined for manufacturers and producers. Examples include coal, grains, and metals. 

Dunnage: Loose material laid beneath or wedged among objects carried by ship or rail to prevent injury from chafing or moisture, or to provide ventilation.

Duty: A specific or ad valorem tax imposed by law on the import or export of goods. A payment, service, etc., imposed and enforceable by law or custom.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): The electronic interchange of business information using a standardized format; a process that allows one company to send information to another company electronically rather than with paper. 

Elevator: A complex including storage facilities, computerized loading, inspection rooms, and docks to load and unload dry bulk cargo.

Export packers: Firms that securely pack export products into a container to crate to protect the cargo from damage during an ocean voyage.

Feeder service: Ocean transport system involving use of centralized ports to assemble and disseminate cargo to and from ports within a geographic area. Commodities are transported between major ports, then transferred to feeder vessels for further transport to a number of additional ports.

Fender piles: Piles that are used to protect the concrete deck or other waterfront structures from the abrasion or impact that may be caused by the ships or barges when these are tied up at the deck.

Fleeting: The area at which barges, towboats, and tugs are berthed until needed. The operation of building or dismantling barge tows.

Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ): Secure areas under U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supervision that are generally considered outside CBP territory upon activation. Located in or near CBP ports of entry, they are the United States’ version of what is known internationally as a free-trade zone.

Freight: Goods, cargo, or lading transported for pay, whether by water, land, or air.

Freight forwarder: Also known as a non-vessel operating common carrier, a person or company that organizes shipments for individuals or corporations to get goods from the manufacturer or producer to a market, customer or final point of distribution.

Gantry crane: A crane built atop a gantry, which is a structure used to straddle an object or workspace. Enormous “full” gantry cranes, such as those used in maritime trade loading and unloading, are capable of lifting some of the heaviest loads in the world.

General cargo: Consists of both containerized and breakbulk goods, in contrast to bulk cargo. 

Grain elevator: A facility at which bulk grain is unloaded, weighed, cleaned, blended and exported.

Gross tonnage: The volume of all of a ship’s enclosed spaces (from keel to funnel) measured to the outside of the hull framing.

Harbor: A part of a body of water along the shore deep enough for anchoring a ship and so situated with respect to coastal features, whether natural or artificial, as to provide protection from winds, waves, and currents.

Heavy hauler: A very large transporter for moving oversize loads too large for road travel without an escort and special permit. A heavy hauler typically consists of a heavy tractor unit and a multi-axle lowboy flatbed trailer.

Heavy lift: The transportation, handling and installation of heavy items which are indivisible, and of weights generally accepted to be over 100 tons and of widths/heights of more than 100 meters. These oversized items are transported from one place to another (sometimes across country borders) then lifted or installed into place. 

Homeport: Usually the port where a ship is registered. Also, the port out of which a ship is operated but not necessarily registered.

Hopper car: A type of railroad freight car used to transport loose bulk commodities such as coal, ore, grain, and track ballast. Two main types of hopper cars exist, which are covered hopper cars, equipped with a roof, and open hopper cars without a roof.

Hostler (or hustler): An employee who moves and services trains, buses, or other vehicles after their regular runs or who does the maintenance work on large machines.

Interchange: The point of entry/exit for trucks delivering and picking up containerized cargo. Point where pickups and deposits of containers in the storage area or yard are assigned.

I.L.A. (International Longshoremen’s Association): A labor union representing longshore workers along the East Coast of the United States and Canada, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, and inland waterways. The ILA has approximately 200 local affiliates in port cities in these areas.

I.L.W.U. (International Longshore and Warehouse Union): A labor union that primarily represents dockworkers on the West Coast of the United States, Hawaii, and in British Columbia, Canada. It also represents hotel workers in Hawaii, cannery workers in Alaska, warehouse workers throughout the West and bookstore workers in Portland, Oregon. 

Intermodal shipment: The transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation, without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes.

IMX: Transportation shorthand for intermodal exchange. In an IMX yard, containers can be lifted from truck chassis to rail intermodal cars or vice versa.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization): An international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations, promoting worldwide proprietary, industrial, and commercial standards.

JIT (Just in Time): An inventory management method whereby materials, goods, and labor are scheduled to arrive or be replenished exactly when needed in the production process.

Labor union: An organized association of workers, often in a trade or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests. 

Landlord port: At a landlord port, the port authority builds the wharves, which it then rents or leases to a terminal operator. The operator invests in cargo-handling equipment (forklifts, cranes, etc), hires longshore laborers to operate such lift machinery and negotiates contracts with ocean carriers to handle the unloading and loading of ship cargoes.

LASH (Lighter Aboard Ship): The LASH system refers to the practice of loading barges (lighters) aboard a bigger vessel for transport. It was developed in response to a need to transport lighters, a type of (usually but not always) unpowered barge, between inland waterways, separated by open seas.

Launch service: Companies that offer “water-taxi” service to ships at anchor.

LCL (Less than Container Load): A shipment that is not large enough to fill a standard cargo container. 

Length Overall (LOA): Linear measurement of a vessel from bow to stern.

Lift On-Lift Off (LO/LO): Cargo handling technique involving the transfer of commodities to and from the ship using shoreside cranes or ship’s gear.

LTL (Less than Truckload): Cargoes from different sources that are usually consolidated to save costs.

Long ton: A long ton equals 2,240 pounds.

Longshoremen: People employed in a port to load and unload ships.

Manifest: A list of the cargo carried by a ship or vessel, made for the use of various agents and officials at the ports of destination.

Marine surveyor: A person who conducts inspections, surveys or examinations of marine vessels to assess, monitor and report on their condition and the products on them, as well as inspects damage caused to both vessels and cargo.

Master: The officer in charge of the ship. “Captain” is actually a courtesy title often given to a master.

Maritime: Adjective, meaning connected with the sea in relation to navigation, shipping, or similar aspects of the trade.

Marshaling yard: A railway yard found at some freight train stations, used to separate railway cars onto one of several tracks. 

Mean low water (MLW): The lowest average level that water reaches on an outgoing tide.

Mean high water (MHW): The highest average level that water reaches on an outgoing tide.

Mooring dolphin: A man-made marine structure that extends above the water level and is not connected to the shore.

Motor ship (MS) or motor vessel (MV): A ship propelled by internal-combustion engines.

NVOCC (Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier): An ocean carrier that transports goods under its own House Bill of Lading, or equivalent documentation, without operating ocean transportation vessels.

Neo-bulk cargo: A type of cargo that is a subcategory of general cargo, alongside the other subcategories of break-bulk cargo and containerized cargo.

Ocean carrier: Diesel-fueled vessels have replaced the old steamships of the past, although many people still refer to modern diesel ships as steamships. Likewise, the person who represents the ship in port is still often called a steamship agent.

On-dock rail: Direct shipside rail service. Includes the ability to load and unload containers and breakbulk directly from rail car to vessel.

On-terminal rail: Rail service and trackage provided by a railroad within a designated terminal area.

Operating port: At an operational port, the port authority builds the wharves, owns the cranes and cargo-handling equipment and hires the labor to move cargo in the sheds and yards. A stevedore hires longshore labor to lift cargo between the ship and the dock, where the port’s laborers pick it up and bring it to the storage site.

Pallet: A short wooden, metal or plastic platform on which package cargo is placed, before being handled by a forklift truck.

Pier: A structure built on posts extending from land out over the water, used as a landing place for ships.

Piggyback: A rail transport mode where a loaded truck trailer is shipped on a rail flatcar.

Pilot: A person duly qualified to steer ships into or out of a harbor or through certain difficult waters.

Port: Any place where persons and merchandise are allowed to pass, by water or land, into and out of a country and where customs officers are stationed to inspect or appraise imported goods.

Port-of-call: A port visited briefly by a ship, usually to take on or discharge passengers and cargo or to undergo repairs.

Project cargo: A term used to broadly describe the national or international transportation of large, heavy, high value or a critical (to the project they are intended for) pieces of equipment. Also commonly referred to as a heavy lift.

Quay: A landing place, especially one of solid masonry, constructed along the edge of a body of water; wharf.

Railhead: The end of the railroad line or point in the area of operations at which cargo is loaded and unloaded.

Railyard: A complex series of railroad tracks for storing, sorting, or loading and unloading, railroad cars and locomotives. 

Reefer: A container with refrigeration for transporting frozen foods, such as meat, ice cream, fruit, etc.

Refrigeration or reefer units: The protective cooling of perishable freight by ice, liquid nitrogen, or mechanical devices.

RO/RO (Roll-On/Roll-Off): Ship ferries designed to carry wheeled cargo, such as cars, trucks, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, and railroad cars, that are driven on and off the ship on their own wheels or using a platform vehicle, such as a self-propelled modular transporter.

Rubber-Tired Gantry (RTG): A traveling crane used for the movement and positioning of containers in a container field. RTG’s may also be used for loading and unloading containers from rail cars.

Sheddage: A one-time fee for use of shed space and/or marginal (waterside) rail track space. The charge is based on the length of a vessel.

Short ton: A short ton equals 2,000 pounds. Lifting capacity and cargo measurements are designated in short tons.

Spreader: A machine for dispersing bulk material.

Steamship: A large commercial vessel, especially one driven by steam.

Steamship agent: Steamship agent

Steamship company: A local representative acting as a liaison among ship owners, local port authorities, terminals, and supply companies. An agent handles all details for getting the ship into port; having it unloaded and loaded; inspected and out to sea quickly. An agent arranges for pilots; tug services; stevedores; inspections, etc., as well as, seeing that a ship is supplied with food, water, mail, medical services, etc. A steamship agency does not own the ships.

Steamship line: A business that owns several ships operating in international trade.

Stevedores: A firm or individual engaged in the loading or unloading of a vessel.

Straddle carrier: A freight carrying vehicle that carries its load underneath by “straddling” it, rather than carrying it on top like a conventional truck. The advantage of the straddle carrier is its ability to load and unload without the assistance of cranes or forklifts.

Stripping: The process of removing cargo from a container.

Stuffing: The process of packing a container with loose cargo prior to inland or ocean shipment.

Tank barges: Ships used for transporting bulk liquids, such as petroleum, chemicals, molasses, vegetable oils, and liquefied gases.

Tariff: An official list or table showing the duties or customs imposed by a government on imports or exports, as well as any duty or rate of duty in such a list or schedule.

Terminal: A major assemblage of a station, yard, maintenance, and repair facilities, as at a terminus, at which trains originate or terminate, or at which they are distributed or combined.

Terminal operator: The company that operates cargo handling activities on a wharf. A terminal operator oversees unloading cargo from ship to dock, checking the number of cargoes versus the ship’s manifest (list of goods), transferring of the cargo into the shed, checking documents authorizing a trucker to pick up cargo, overseeing the loading/unloading of railroad cars, etc.

Toplift: A piece of equipment similar to a forklift that lifts from above rather than below. Used to handle containers in the storage yard to and from storage stacks, trucks and railcars.

Towboat: A diesel-powered or steam-powered boat used especially on inland waterways to push groups of barges lashed to it in front or on one side or both.

Tractor-trailer: As opposed to trucks that are a solid unit, these have as many as three main units. The front section where the driver sits is called the cab or the tractor, cargo is loaded into the metal box (container), and this is loaded onto the wheelbase, called a chassis or a trailer. These big trucks are often also called 18-wheelers.

Trailer On Flat Car (TOFC): A container placed on a chassis that is in turn placed on a railroad car.

Tramp: A ship operating with no fixed route or published schedule.

Transit port: A port where the majority of the goods that arrive there are not intended for the local market but will instead be transported to the final destination in the hinterland via other inland modes of transport.

Transit shed: The shed on a wharf that is designed to protect cargoes from weather damage and is used only for short-term storage. Warehouses operated by private firms store goods for longer periods.

Transshipment: The shipment of goods or containers to an intermediate destination, then to another destination. 

Transtainer: A mobile gantry crane used for stacking intermodal containers within the stacking areas of a container terminal.

Tugboat: A small, powerful boat for towing or pushing ships, barges, etc.

Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU): An inexact unit of cargo capacity often used to describe the capacity of container ships and container terminals.[1] It is based on the volume of a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) intermodal container, a standard-sized metal box which can be easily transferred between different modes of transportation, such as ships, trains and trucks. The container is defined by its length though there is a lack of standardisation in regard to height, ranging between 4 feet 3 inches (1.30 m) and 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 m), with the most common height being 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 m).

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: A federal agency under the Department of Defense that primarily oversees dams, canals and flood protection in the United States, as well as a wide range of public works throughout the world.

Vessel: A ship, a boat, or a craft for traveling on water, now usually one larger than an ordinary rowboat.

Vessel operator: A person that oversees various aspects of a ship’s operations including voyage planning, crew management, payments, and paperwork, which includes handling bills of lading, letters of indemnity, and manifests.

Warehouse: A building, or a part of one, for the storage of goods, merchandise.

Way bill: A document issued by a carrier giving details and instructions relating to the shipment of a consignment of goods. Typically it will show the names of the consignor and consignee, the point of origin of the consignment, its destination, and route.

Wharf: A structure built on the shore of a waterway so that vessels may be moored alongside to load or unload or to lie at rest; quay; pier.

Wharfage fee: The fee charged by ocean carriers to cover the port authority’s cost of using a wharf to unload cargo from a vessel. Wharfage is usually included in the base freight rate or the Terminal Handling Charge.

Yard: A system of tracks within a certain area used for making up trains, storing cars, placing cars to be loaded or unloaded, etc.