There are mainly three modes of transportation: airways, waterways and land routes. While land transportation includes everything from cars to buses, trucks to scooters, and bikes to railways, air transportation is mainly comprised of planes and choppers.
Speaking of water transportation, the only picture that emerges in the minds of most of us, especially those of us hailing from outside this industry, is that of a large ship, mostly resembling The Titanic, with large funnels bellowing out wafts of blackish smoke, and gently treading somewhere in the middle of the deep blue waters. For those of us from within the boundaries of this field, the picture is much more detailed, with varied characteristics of various types of watercraft.
Now, regarding water transport, there can be various classifications other than the types of vessels or watercraft. Let us look at a few of them.
Types of Water Transport Based on routes or types of waterways catering to the traffic
Based on the waterways, water bodies, and routes catering to maritime or waterborne traffic, water or marine transport can be declassified into the following types:
River: This is a local form of water transport that is responsible for transport in a river. Rivers, as we know, are shallow freshwater bodies within a country that may span varying lengths. Riverine transportation further comes under the purview of inland waterways. This means that the channels or bodies catering to the given traffic are limited only to shallow water bodies under local consideration.
Mostly inland water transportation is only meant for short-distance travel from one place to another. So likewise, river transport includes small to medium-sized vessels for both commercial and public as well as personal transportation across varying distances within the geographical limits of a country or state.
They may include a simple and austere fisherman’s boat lazily basking in the mellow sunlight of dusk to a medium-sized cargo vessel transporting food stock or industrial goods across distances of maybe 1000 or 2000 kilometres from one tip of a country to another.
Modes of river transport include conventional goods or cargo carriers, fishing vessels, barges, speedcrafts, steamers, trawlers, dinghies, pleasure yachts, high-speed planing boats, river ferries, and so on. Because of the limited or restricted depths of the waterbody, all river vessels are classified as shallow draft vessels.
Lakes: In a technical sense, lakes are enclosed or bounded bodies of water with varying surface areas. This means they can range from the size of Bhopal Lake in India to the size of Lake Superior in the United States, which is the single largest freshwater lake in the world! Not only the areas but also the depths vary accordingly. So, the modes of transport and the type of traffic also depend on the extent and size of the lake. However, for all practical purposes, this is also considered under the study of inland waterways where there is a low draft.
Coastal: This comes under the purview of deep-water transportation. The coastal mode of transportation encompasses vessels that tread close to the shoreline. They include both commercials as well as passenger vessels.
For example, there are two ports of call, A and B, along a particular coastline at a separation of 2000 kilometres. A typical coastal vessel travels from A to B and back during a short span of a voyage, say in a period of 4 to 5 days. Fishing trawlers, coastal coal carriers, and tankers that transport coal and petroleum products within two locations in the same country are good examples of commercial coastal vessels.
Similarly, ferries carrying holiday-seekers from the port of a city to some famous beach destination some hundred or thousand kilometres away on a charter basis are examples of passenger vessels under the coastal classification.
Coastal vessels have different regulations for design and construction under classification guidelines. They adhere to their routes up a certain distance from the coastline and are not regulated to go into deep seas.
Since they are designed to sail only up to the extent of distance, they are said to have a much lower range than deep-sea vessels. In terms of their structural design, they are stronger and have higher levels of endurance than shallow-draft vessels but much lesser than their deep-water counterparts. Such vessels are also used for shorter distances, like a coastal region to a nearby island, which may be a popular tourist hotspot.
International and Intercontinental: Most maritime traffic is deemed for international or intercontinental travel. While international travel may be between two countries within the same continental boundary, for example, Germany and Sweden or Italy and Greece, intercontinental travel spans across large oceans, separating two continents.
Most of the marine maritime traffic is in the Atlantic and Pacific, the world’s two biggest oceans. Vessels designed for intercontinental travel are structurally in the highest levels of superiority and have very high degrees of endurance. Due to the global monopoly of aviation for the last several decades, most intercontinental maritime traffic comprises commercial vessels, mostly bulkers, tankers, and containerships, along with defence and research vessels.
Polar Vessels: They come under a particular type of vessel classification. Polar vessels are designed and constructed to ply in icy waters containing ice sheets, floes, bergs, or slabs. Since they often need to overcome the forces and the higher degree of hydrodynamic forces from the ice, they are structurally strengthened to a very high level and have arrangements to survive in adversely cold weather conditions for days at a stretch. Icebreakers are in the top category of polar vessels as they are designed to break through greater thicknesses of ice and often clear the path for an entailing ship to follow.
Types of Water Transport Based on ownership and utility
Most of the vessels are categorized based on their ownership or utilization per the following categories:
Commercial: These vessels comprise the highest share of maritime traffic. All forms of inland or deep-sea vessels dedicated to trade, commerce, and industrial purposes are termed commercial vessels. Commercial vessels can be anything from an oil barge to a bulk carrier, a fishing trawler to a containership, and a rice carrier to an LPG carrier. All commercial vessels comprise vital and indispensable links in the global trade and supply chain at multifarious levels. Commercial vessels are either private or government owned.
Passenger and public vessels: They comprise vessels dedicated to passenger travel as a mode of waterborne public transportation. As mentioned earlier, the utility of ships for passenger travel has deprecated considerably over time after the monopoly of aviation for the last many years. However, for pleasure and luxury recreation purposes, they are used at many places for holiday-seekers and travellers. Shallow water vessels for public transport are still very popular worldwide in water taxis, river cruises, ferries, steamers, launches, and so on, especially for short-distance travel.
Private Vessels: These small to medium-sized, sometimes bigger, vessels are liable to private ownership only. Ownership may be limited to a single person or a body like an organization or concern. However, as mentioned above, private vessels may not be confused with commercial vessels under private ownership. Commercial vessels are usually bigger (though smaller ships are very much there), which pertains to a more extensive fleet of a shipping or international fleet transport organization solely dedicated to cargo transport and supply chain. They operate round the clock across varying distances for the transport or carriage of a wide range of cargo or supplies in various quantities.
A containership owned, managed, and operated by Maersk or an oil tanker belonging to Scorpio or Euronav Tankers are examples of mainstream commercial vessels under private or corporate ownership. But a medium-sized survey vessel owned and operated by a coastal engineering organization or a couple of small or medium fishing trawlers run by a significant seafood processing chain are examples of privately-owned ships. Vessels owned by an individual are primarily for pleasure and recreation for the affluent class. Yachts are classic examples of them.
Defence: These vessels, too, are exceptionally prominent among the global fleet, especially for superpowers. However, irrespective of the size, population, and so-called global dominance, every country has its dedicated naval fleet as a part of its military capabilities. Defence vessels may range from warships, carriers, frigates, destroyers, and corvettes to small patrol vessels for the coast guard or high-speed rescue boats used by the navy. Submarines are a crucial part of the naval fleet of several nations.
Special Purpose Vessels: These vessels are mainly research or exploration vessels used for scientific purposes. They may be government-owned or operated by institutions or bodies.
Types of Water Transport Based on Submersibility
Last but not least, water transport can be based on submergibility:
Surface Vessels: All forms of ships and boats which stay afloat in water are surface vessels. They may be further into the following types; displacement, planing, and semi-planing.
Submarines and submersibles: As we already know, these vessels remain submerged underwater below a certain height for a diverse read on submarines and submersibles.
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Subhodeep is a Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering graduate. Interested in the intricacies of marine structures and goal-based design aspects, he is dedicated to sharing and propagation of common technical knowledge within this sector, which, at this very moment, requires a turnabout to flourish back to its old glory.