What Are Different Types of Ports For Ships?

A port is a harbour or area that can provide shelter to numerous boats and vessels (transferring people or cargo) and allow constant or periodic shipment transactions.

In layman’s language, a port is a place to facilitate the loading as well as unloading of vessels. Technically speaking, it is a convergence point between freight circulation domains.

Ports are the inhibitors that begin a region’s social and economic growth by allowing trade and serving as a hub for social activities.

These days, most ports (especially seaports) are well-equipped with specialized fixtures such as forklifts and gantry cranes to facilitate regular dealings of cargo.

Ports are significant to a nation as they promote commercial welfare and trade. They can also be of military importance, as they are used to keep the warships before moving out to the battle scene. They generate employment as a large number of people work at the ports.


What Are Port Facilities?

The port can be a natural establishment or artificial construction, providing a place for loading and unloading cargo. Ports can be for large seagoing ships and inland waterways such as rivers and lakes. The depth of the ports plays a vital role in allowing various types of ships to enter and dock at the port.

But nowadays, along with its basic purpose, a port is equipped with certain other amenities and facilities. Different types of ports are fitted with various port facilities.

Some common port facilities provided by the most common sorts of ports throughout the world are as follows:

a) Special Warehouse: This is available at all the ports for storing the shipment and maintaining regular stock.

b) Port Reception: Reception has details of all the scheduled shipments and is a guide for the port facilities.

c) Other facilities: Some other essential facilities are also available at seaports, namely hotels, restaurants, restrooms and eateries for the port visitors. Some of the ports are provided medical facilities to the people present there. If there is no hospital in the vicinity, it becomes obligatory for the port to provide primary medical services.

d) Fishing facilities: Fishing ports allow customers fishing aids and amenities at the port.

e) Warm water facility: A greater revenue-generating warm water port provides warm water even in frosting winters.

f) Loading and Unloading Facility: It is the mandatory part of every port to allow the loading and unloading of freight and people on a ship.

g) Infrastructure and Equipment: A port has piers, basins, stacking or storage areas, and warehouses to store various ferry equipment. Each port is equipped with essential equipment, e.g. hauling equipment, draggers, cranes, trucks, loaders, etc.

h) Workshop: All the bigger and more important ports provide the facility of vessel workshops. It is where one can get spare parts and accessories for a vessel. Also, the ships which have gone out of order are repaired and catered to in the workshop.

What is Port Authority?

The Port Authority of any country is a government or semi-government public authority which builds, maintains and operates critical transportation and trade assets at the seaports.

In short, the seaport authority facilitates the management of millions of people working in the harbour and maintains or supervises vessel movement. The London Port Authority was the first port authority. It came into action in the year 1908.

Port Authority controls, legalizes and manages all the port and marine services, facilities and activities within the concerned country waters. It also includes vessel traffic management, maritime safety improvisation, and facilitating security and environmental management at the port.

Organisation Of Port Authority:

Port authority comprises of following Departments:

1. Supervisory Board: It is the highest Department in the port authority which supervises all the activities of the following departments.

2. Executive Board: This Department is the most crucial department of port authority as it makes and executes all the decisions regarding maintenance, control, security and organizational operations. It has two main components, namely:

President and chief executive Officer: The main functions of the President and Chief Executive Officer are as follows:

  • Corporate Affairs and Corporate Strategies: They have to look after all the corporate affairs and make strategies for improving corporate relations.
  • Human Resources: They have to appoint crew members, labour at the port and work for their improvement by regular performance appraisal.
  • Communication and External Affairs: They have to manage internal and external communication on port and work to enhance International trade.
  • Internal Audit: They have to maintain Internal Audits as well.
  • Legal Department: They have to legalize trade and cater to all legal matters.

The President and Chief executive Officer are to manage the following sub-departments:

i) Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and

ii) Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

i) Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer: They have to cater to all the matters related to Finance, Procurement, Digital Business Solutions, Digital and Information technology, Innovation, etc. They also have to look after the Faculty Service Centre to manage working personnel and their services.

ii) Vice President and Chief Operating Officer: They head Harbor’s Master division and work primarily for Harbor Development. They manage all the assets and also work for environmental Management.

Types of Shipping Ports

Considering various factors such as location, depth, purpose, and ship sizes, ports are classified into multiple types. Some of the main types are as follows:

Inland Ports

Inland ports are built on smaller water bodies such as rivers or lakes. They can either be for cargo purposes or passengers or both. Conventionally Inland Ports are constructed or naturally maintained ports at the coastline of small waterways like lakes, rivers or estuaries and are also rarely seen at sea coasts.

Some of these inland ports can have access to the sea with the help of a canal system. As such, ports are built on inland waterways. They usually behave like normal seaports but cannot allow deep draft ship traffic.

Some of the inland ports can also be made explicitly for recreational purposes allowing only small-sized vessels or used just for ferrying people and fishing activities.

Unlike clogged seaports, inland ports are known for their quality to function smoothly. These ports can sometimes be called dry docks and are similar to active intermodal hubs. The inland port at Montreal is the biggest of its kind.

Inland Ports

Inland ports are conventionally maintained for quenching the needs of stocking and dispatching cargo, but sometimes these are also made open to passengers. These are shallower than seaports, so they don’t allow deep docking, but only docking to ferries is allowed at inland ports.

Inland transport services connect these ports (generally called rail or road terminals) through marine terminals. E.g. St. Lawrence Seaway is an important inland port.

Intermodal transportation and tanker ships are at their peak in the international market due to the development of Inland ports which are also referred to as Inland freight distribution ports, which are a hub for inland waterway trades mainly due to their congestion-free space availability and adequate capacity.

The Inland terminal is the key connector for trading expeditions between two regions, not only for inbound traffic but also for serving outbound traffic. This port also has to handle various concerned logistic activities. Essential functions of Inland ports are summarized below as:

  • There should be well-established distribution centres for freight distribution
  • Inland port Depots should be made available to ensure proper storage of hulks and containers, which can be later used in different voyages.
  • There should be well established logistic department to handle all logistics activities as well as to maintain inventory records.
  • There should be a proper warehouse to house spare parts of cargo and other machinery involved in loading cargo.

Fishing Ports

Fishing ports are mainly related to the commercial sphere as they participate in fishing. Fishing activities can also be treated as a mode of recreation. The existence of a fishing port entirely relies upon the availability of fish in that region of the ocean. A fishing port can be an inland port or a seaport.

Fishing ports are often commercial ones used for recreational purposes or aesthetics. These are the ports which allow controlled and disciplined fishing to their customers. These are the highest revenue-generating ports when properly operational.

Fishing Ports

Unlike other types of ports, the fishing port has an operational loophole that this port is operational when there are fish available in the port area or locality. With the scarcity of fish in the vicinity, these ports become uneconomical.

Also, fishing ports require more maintenance than other ports, so many are on the verge of closing. These are the ports with smaller depths because the draught of the fishing vessel is limited to a short depth. A fishing port comprises:

  • Hangers: These are the particular areas employed to preserve goods and products. Also, it houses the production and a storage area that produces and stores necessary food or other items for the fish.
  • Supply post: This is an integral part of a fishing port and is responsible for satiating the ship’s fuel needs and freshwater demand.
  • Operation and Administration building: This is the main building in which plans are made for the voyage, fishing, and management of all legal and health issues.
  • Premises: It is the building which houses the deals in fish that is either purchase or sale of fish.

Warm Water Ports

These are the ports in which the water is maintained at warmer temperatures. The biggest advantage where a warm water port is concerned is that the water does not freeze during the frosty winters. Therefore, it is free to operate all year round without a temporary shutdown during the freezing time. Such ports help to a great extent to boost the economy of the nation.

These ports have a significant role in the economic growth of the region where they are located.

Warm Water Ports

Two major revenue-generating ports are Valdez port in Alaska and Vostochny port in Russia. The main reasons for which warm water ports are considered essential and which important developed countries of the world quest to establish and acquire more warm water ports are as follows:

i) It allows trade throughout the year because in chilling winter, when other ports deny their services, the warm-water port is still operational and reaches the import-export demand of the nation.

ii) These warm water ports made inland waterway trading possible in countries like Ethiopia.

iii) These are the main reason for the expansion of an empire around the globe.

A few notable examples may include Ukraine’s Odesa, Russia’s Vostochny Port and Murmansk Port, Japan’s Kushiro and Alaska’s Valdez.

Dry Ports

Dry ports are inland terminals that can be interconnected with a seaport via road or rail transportation facilities, and they usually act as centres of multimodal logistics. A dry port proves useful in the trade of importing and exporting cargo and can help to lessen the inevitable congestion at a nearby seaport. Its functions are quite similar to that of a seaport, with the only difference being that it is not situated near the coastline.

These are specifically employed for the transhipment of cargo to inland destinations. It is a trans-shipment port connected to a seaport and manages intermittent billing and coordination between importers and exporters.

Dry Ports

These ports serve the same purpose as the veins in our body because these are used to connect importers and exporters from remote areas who cannot access seaports for trading or other purposes. There are nearly 300 to 330 dry ports in India, and more are under development.

A dry port consists of all the necessary machinery to handle the constant clearance of shipment, like proper cargo instrumentations, rail sidings, storehouses, and even container yards.

Sea Ports

Seaports are the most common types of ports worldwide used for commercial shipping activities. These ports are built on a sea location and enable the accommodation of small and large vessels.

Numerous seaports are situated along the coastline and actively handle the ongoing cargo transactions. A seaport can be further categorized as a cargo port or cruise port. Some of the oldest seaports are still used for recreational and fishing purposes.

Sea Ports

Special warehouses are also constructed to store the shipment and to maintain regular stocking. Added facilities such as hotels, restaurants, port reception facilities, restrooms and eateries can also be made available to rouse the interest of the people visiting the port. Seaports form some of the biggest and busiest ports in the world.

Seaports are the most common type of ports and a major part of water transportation. These are further classified into three categories: Cruise Port, Port of call, and Cargo port. These all are briefed as under:

i) Cruise Home Ports

This type of port deals with the activities of cruise ships. It provides the platform for the passengers to enter and disembark the cruises at the beginning and the end of the journeys, respectively. A cruise home port can also provide the essential provisions for a luxurious cruise voyage. The supply may vary from fuel resources to fresh drinking water, wines, foods etc.

A typical cruise home port is always congested and buzzes with people boarding or leaving the cruises.

Cruise Home Ports

These ports are busy due to continuous boarding, loading, and unloading activities. Also, the port authority pre-planned and executed all the formalities and arrangements for a safe voyage through cruises.

In South Florida, Miami ports are considered the modern cruise capital of the world.  Also, Port Everglades and San Juan port of Florida and Puerto Rico, respectively, are considered significant for their destination holiday cruises.

Some popular cruise homeports include Florida’s Port of Miami, Port Everglades, and Puerto Rico’s Port of San Juan.

ii) Port of call: Also known as the mid-way port, the Port of call is somewhere midway on the ship’s travel plan to accept fuel supply and stocking or unloading cargo.

Port of Call is a type of port paid a brief visit by a ship on the voyage. It is also used for carrying out essential repair works. Many passengers can also leave the vessel at a “port of call”.

It serves as a stopover port between a particular vessel’s home ports.

iii) Cargo Ports

As the name suggests, these ports act according to the cargo it manages and the amenities available differ from one port to the other. These are the unique ports to handle cargo only. These ports are also known as “bulk ports”, “break bulk ports”, or “container ports”.

The cargo ports involve many mechanical techniques to load or unload the shipment. A cargo port may be designed to deal with single and multiple types of products.

Items such as liquid fuels, chemicals, food grains, timber, machines and motorcars are transported to various places, employing the adeptness of a cargo port. Deep water ports are sometimes used along with those cargo ports which do not have sufficient depth to allow big ships.

Cargo Ports

Bulk ports handle cargo like wood, liquid chemicals or fuel, food grains, automobiles, etc., whereas Container ports handle containerized cargo or cargo in containers. Sometimes a third category is added in this series, an all-in-one port. This port not only handles specific shipments but can manage all kinds of cargoes in a single port.

Numerous operating terminals branch out from individual bulk ports and are assigned to maintain the various kinds of ship landings. Stevedores are the companies which act as terminal operators and preside over the actions of the different operating terminals.

Difference Between Ports and Terminals

Ports are strategically located at the edge of the ocean, seas, rivers, or lakes. These locations are then developed to inculcate facilities for loading and unloading cargo ships. The facilities provided for a port depend on the purpose for which the port is being used.

A terminal is the set of facilities at a port where the loading and unloading of cargo/containers occur. Terminals are named based on the type of cargo that they can handle. The most common terminals are container, bulk cargo, LNG, etc.


In a nutshell, it can be concluded that interstate or international trade ports are the key areas which ensure the safety, security and reliability of voyages.

There are different sorts of ports as per the purpose they are used for. Still, the main parts of all the ports are the same: the port authority, administration and operation building, warehouses, a depot for containers and vessels, etc.

There are five major types of natural or artificial ports: Inland port, fishing port, dry port, warm water port and seaport.

Among all these types of ports, seaports are the largest and busiest type of ports. This is due to the reason that seaport serves both cargoes as well as passengers. So more facilities and equipment are available there, which results in the employment of more personnel as a port authority.

But all the regions cannot access seaports. These are connected to the dry port using either road or railways. These dry ports are further connected to seaports and serve as trade mediators to the remote importers or exporters.

Fishing ports are commercial leisure ports that only serve the fishing activities by the people for fun and enjoyment.

Inland ports are similar to seaports but with smaller capacity. When all these ports fail to serve transportation due to the freezing of water in winters, then only warm-water ports are still operational. So the importance of warm water ports can never be out skirted. These are the only media to carry out international or national trade expeditions in winter.

Today all the countries quest to own more and more warm water ports.

Frequently Asked Questions About Shipping Ports

1. What are the different types of shipping ports?

Shipping ports can be natural harbours or man-made constructions. There are five types of shipping ports: inland, dry, fishing, warm water, and seaports.

2. What is the largest and busiest kind of port?

Seaports are the largest and busiest ports as they handle international trade and commerce. Hence, they have more terminals for handling cargo and passengers. They also contribute to the nation’s GDP and generate employment opportunities.

3. What are ports in shipping?

Ports are maritime constructions near water bodies, mainly seas, oceans and rivers, where ships load and unload cargo and passengers. They have wharves, docks and piers, and transportation and handling equipment like cranes, tug boats etc., for carrying out port operations.

4. Why are shipping ports so important?

Ports are crucial transportation hubs that facilitate the movement of goods and people across the world. They help sustain global economies, businesses and markets worldwide.

5. What are some advantages of inland ports?

Inland ports are domestic ports, usually connected to seaports. They help to decrease congestion at seaports, aid in consolidating import and distribution functions at one location, allow for more warehousing space away from seaports, and have plenty of storage space. They can also act as buffers in supply chains by being temporary warehousing spaces.

You might also like to read.

Disclaimer: The author’s views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used in the article, have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight.

Do you have info to share with us ? Suggest a correction

Get the Latest Maritime News Delivered to Your Inbox!

Our free, fast, and fun newsletter on the global maritime industry, delivered everyday.


  1. Thank you for this useful info
    Please elaborate more on types of port terminals and reason for their existence

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *