What Are Different Types of Ports For Ships?

A port can be defined as a harbour or an area that is able to provide shelter to numerous boats and vessels (transferring people or cargo), and can also allow constant or periodic transaction of shipment.

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

Ports are the inhibitors which begin the social and economic growth of a region by not only allowing trade but also by serving a hub for social activities.

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

Ports can of great significance to a nation, as it promotes the commercial welfare and the trade scenario. Ports can also be of military importance, as they are used to keep the warships before moving out to the battle scene.

Ports are also a major source of employment as a large number of workers are employed at the ports.


What Are Port Facilities?

The port can be a natural establishment or artificial construction, which provides a place for the loading and unloading of cargo. Ports can be for large seagoing ships and also for 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 equipped with different 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 on all the ports, for storing the shipment and for maintaining regular stock.

b) Port Reception: Reception has details of all the shipment scheduled and moreover it 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 with medical facilities to the people present there, if there is no hospital in the vicinity it becomes obligatory for the port to provide with primary medical services.

d) Fishing facilities: Fishing ports allow its customer with 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 loading and unloading of freight as well as people in a ship.

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

h) Workshop: All the bigger and significant ports provide the facility of vessel workshop. It is the place where one can get spare parts and accessories of a vessel. Also, the vessels which have gone out of order are repaired and catered 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 on the harbour and maintains or supervise 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 management of vessel traffic, improvisation of navigational safety, and facilitation of 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 port authority which supervises all the activities of subsequent departments.

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

President and chief executive Officer: The main functions of 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 regarding the improvement of corporate relations.
  • Human Resources: They have to appoint crew members, labours at the port and work for their improvement by regular performance appraisal.
  • Communication and External Affairs: They have to manage internal as well as external communication on port and work for enhancing International trade.
  • Internal Audit: They have to maintain Internal Audit as well.
  • Legal Department: They have to legalize trade and cater to all the legal matters.

The President and Chief executive Officer are to manage 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 Solution, 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 Ports

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

Inland Ports

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

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 are not able to allow deep draft ship traffic.

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

Inland ports are known for their quality to function in a smooth manner, unlike the clogged seaports. These ports can also sometimes be referred to as dry ports, and are similar to active intermodal hubs. The inland port at Montreal is the biggest of its kind.

Inland ports are conventionally maintained for quenching the needs of stocking and dispatching of cargo but sometimes these are also made open to passengers too. 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 are used to connect these inland ports (generally called rail or road terminal) through marine terminals. For e.g. St. Lawrence Seaway is an important inland port.

Intermodal transportation and tanker ships are on 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.

Inland terminal is the key connector for trading expeditions between two regions, not only for inbound traffic but also in serving outbound traffic. This port also has to handle various concerned logistic activities. Important 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 for ensuring 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 the loading of cargo.

Fishing Ports

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

Often, fishing ports are marketable port which is generally 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.

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

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

  • Hangers: These are the special area employed for the preservation of goods and products. Also, it houses the production as well as a storage area which produce and store necessary food or other items for the fish.
  • Supply post: This is an important part of a fishing port and is responsible for satiating the fuel needs and freshwater demand by the ship.
  • Operation and Administration building: This the main building in which plans are made for the voyage and fishing and management for all legal as well as health issues.
  • Premises: It is the building which houses the deals in fish that is either purchase of fish or sale of fish.

Warm Water Ports

These are the ports in which the water is maintained at warmer temperature. 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 these are located.

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

i) It allows trade throughout the year, because in chilling winter when other ports deny their services, warm-water port is still operational and reach 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 Odessa, Russia’s Vostochny Port and Murmansk Port, Japan’s Kushiro and Alaska’s Valdez.

Dry Ports

Dry ports are defined as 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 that is not situated near the coastline.

These are specifically employed for transhipment of cargo to inland destinations. It is a trans-shipment port which is connected to a seaport and manages intermittent operation like billing and managing co-ordination between importer and exporters.

These ports serve the same purpose as the veins do in our body because these are used to connect importers and exporters from remote areas who cannot access to seaports for trading or other purposes. In India alone, there are nearly 300 to 330 dry ports and certainly, 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 around the world which are used for commercial shipping activities  These ports are built on a sea location and enable the accommodation of both 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 purpose.

Special warehouses are also constructed to store the shipment and to maintain the 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 namely: Cruise Port; Port of call and Cargo port. These all are briefed as under:

i) Cruise Home Ports

This type of port specializes in dealing with the activities of cruise ships and provide 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 is also capable of providing the essential provisions required for a luxurious cruise voyage. The supplying may vary from fuel resources to fresh drinking water, wines, foods etc.

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

These are the busiest sort of ports due to continuous boarding; loading; unloading activities. Also, all the formalities and arrangements for a safe voyage through cruises is pre-planned and executed by the port authority at the port.

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

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

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

Port of Call is a type of port which is 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, in between the home ports of a particular vessel.

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 special 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, as well as 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 like wood, liquid chemicals or fuel, food grains, automobiles, etc. are handled by Bulk ports whereas containerized cargo or cargo in containers is handled by the Container ports. Sometimes a third category is also added in this series which is all-in-one port this sort of port not only handle specific cargoes but can manage all sorts of cargoes on a single port.

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

Difference Between Ports and Terminals

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

Whereas a terminal is referred to as the set of facilities at a port where loading and unloading of cargo/container take place. Terminals are named on the basis of the type of cargo that can be handled by them. Some of the most common types of terminals are container terminal, bulk cargo terminal, LNG terminal etc.


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

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

There are five major types of natural or man-made ports which are 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 to 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 to seaports, these are connected to the dry port by means of either road or railways. These dry ports are further connected to seaports and serve as a mediator of trade to the remote importers or exporters.

Fishing ports are leisure commercial ports which are only to 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 freezing of water in winters then only warm-water ports are still operational. So 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.

You may also like to read – 7 Ancient Sea Ports of India

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Disclaimer: The authors’ 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 recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

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

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