September 14, 2021

Glossary of Maritime Terms


The American Bureau of Shipping is a U.S. classification society that certifies
if a ship is in compliance with standard rules of construction and maintenance.


Port charge relating to a vessel moored at approved anchorage site in
a harbor.


The area immediately in front of or behind a wharf shed on which cargo is
lifted. On the “front apron,” cargo is unloaded from or loaded onto a ship. Behind
the shed, cargo moves over the “rear apron” into and out of railroad cars.


To haul a shipment back over part of a route which it has already
traveled; a marine transportation carrier’s return movement of cargo, usually
opposite from the direction of its primary cargo distribution.


A large, flat-bottomed boat used to carry cargo from a port to shallow-draft
waterways. Barges have no locomotion and are pushed by towboats. 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 bulk (grain, coal, lumber, gravel, etc.) and liquid bulk
(petroleum, vegetable oils, molasses, etc.).


(verb) To bring a ship to a berth. (noun) The wharf space at which a ship
docks. A wharf may have two or three berths, depending on the length of incoming

Bill of lading

A contract between a shipper and carrier listing the terms for
moving freight between specified points.

Board of Commissioners

The members of the governing board of a port
authority are called commissioners. Members of a Board of Commissioners can be
elected or appointed and usually serve for several years.


A line-securing device on a wharf around which mooring and berthing lines
are fastened.

Bonded warehouse

A building designated by U.S. Customs authorities for
storage of goods without payment of duties to Customs until goods are removed.


Slang term for a container.

Breakbulk cargo

Non-containerized general cargo stored in boxes, bales, pallets
or other units to be loaded onto or discharged from ships or other forms of
transportation. (See also: bulk and container.) Examples include iron, steel,
machinery, linerboard and wood pulp.

Bulk cargo

Loose cargo (dry or liquid) that is loaded (shoveled, scooped, forked,
mechanically conveyed or pumped) in volume directly into a ship’s hold; e.g., grain,
coal and oil.


A structure used to protect against shifting cargo and/or to separate the


Floats that warn of hazards such as rocks or shallow ground, to help ships
maneuver through unfamiliar harbors.


Shipment of cargo between a nation’s ports is also called coastwise
trade. The U.S. and some other countries require such trade to be carried on
domestic ships only.


The available space for, or 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. (Contrast with a transit port.)


The freight (goods, products) carried by a ship, barge, train, truck or plane.


An individual, partnership or corporation engaged in the business of
transporting goods or passengers (See also: ocean carrier.)


Originally the process of transporting by cart. Today, the term is used for
trucking or trucking fees.


Like a hotel at sea, a ship needs many supplies to operate and serve its
crew– groceries; paper products; engine parts; electronics; hardware; etc. A
chandler sells these supplies to the ship’s agent. Originally, chandlers (candle
makers) provided illumination to ships. Over time they expanded the variety of
products they could provide to ships.

Channels of distribution

The routes by which products are transported from
origin to destination. This includes the physical routes, as well as the different
companies involved in ultimately delivering the goods to buyers.


See clerks.


A piece of wood or other material put next to cargo to prevent it from

Civil service

Some U.S., state, city and parish government jobs are protected
under civil service systems which are designed to provide a degree of security to
employees and to deter nepotism, political patronage and arbitrary treatment of


When cargo is unloaded from a ship, a clerk checks the actual count of the
goods (number of boxes, drums, bundles, pipes, etc.) versus the amount listed on
the ship’s manifest. He will note shortages, overages or damage. This is used to
make claims if needed.

Common Carrier

Trucking, railroad or barge lines that are licensed to transport
goods or people nationwide are called common carriers.

Conference rate

Rates arrived at by conference of carriers applicable to water


A shipment of goods. The buyer of this shipment is called the
consignee; the seller of the goods is called the consignor.

Consolidated Freight Station or Container Freight Station (CFS)

Location on terminal grounds where stuffing and stripping of containers is conducted.


The person or firm that consolidates (combines) cargo from a
number of shippers into a container that will deliver the goods to several buyers.


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

The facility for stuffing and stripping a container of its
cargo, especially for movement by railroad.

Container Chassis

A piece of equipment specifically designed for the movement of
containers by highway to and from container terminals.

Container Crane

Usually, a rail-mounted gantry crane located on a wharf for the
purpose of loading and unloading containers on vessels.

Container Terminal

A specialized facility where ocean container vessels dock to
discharge and load containers, equipped with cranes with a safe lifting capacity of
35-40 tons, with booms having an outreach of up to 120 feet in order to reach the
outside cells of vessels. Most such cranes operate on rail tracks and have
articulating rail trucks on each of their four legs, enabling them to traverse along
the terminal and work various bays on the vessel and for more than one crane to
work a single vessel simultaneously. Most terminals have direct rail access and
container storage areas, and are served by highway carriers.


The technique of using a container to store, protect and handle
cargo while it is in transit. This shipping method has both greatly expedited the
speed at which cargo is moved from origin to destination and lowered shipping

Container on Flat Car (COFC)

A container placed directly on a railroad flatcar without chassis.


Goods prohibited in trade (such as weapons going to Iran, anything
to Cuba). Smuggled goods.

Corps of Engineers

This department of the U. S. Army is responsible for flood
protection and providing safe navigation channels. The Corps builds and maintains
the levees, flood walls and spillways that keep major rivers out of low lying
communities. The Corps is vital to keeping navigation channels open by dredging
sand, silt and gravel that accumulate on river and harbor bottoms.


A boat, ship or airplane.


A duty or tax on imported goods. These fees are a major bonus to the
economy. In 1999, for example, the U. S. Customs Department collected over $22
billion in fees nationally, which went into the U.S. Treasury. The Customs
Department also works to prevent the importation of illegal drugs and contraband.

Customs Broker

This person prepares the needed documentation for importing
goods (just as a freight forwarder does for exports). The broker is licensed by the
Treasury Department to clear goods through U.S. Customs. Performs duties related
to documentation, cargo clearance, coordination of inland and ocean transportation,
dockside inspection of cargo, etc. (Also known as a customhouse broker.)

Dead Weight Tonnage (DWT)

Maximum weight of a vessel including the vessel, cargo and ballast.


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

Deck barge

Transports heavy or oversize cargoes mounted to its top deck instead
of inside a hold. Machinery, appliances, project cargoes and even recreational
vehicles move on deck barges.


A penalty fee assessed when cargo isn’t moved off a wharf before the
free time allowance ends


(verb) – To bring in a vessel to tie up at a wharf berth. (One parks a car, but
docks a ship.) (noun) – A dock is a structure built along, or at an angle from, a
navigable waterway so that vessels may lie alongside to receive or discharge cargo.
Sometimes, the whole wharf is informally called a dock.


A charge by a port authority for the length of water frontage used by a
vessel tied up at a wharf.


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.


Transport by truck for short distances; e.g. from wharf to warehouse.


(noun) A waterborne machine that removes unwanted silt accumulations
from the bottom of a waterway. (verb) The process of removing sediment from
harbor or river bottoms for safety purposes and to allow for deeper vessels.

Dry bulk

Minerals or grains stored in loose piles moving without mark or count.
Examples are potash, industrial sands, wheat, soybeans and peanuts.


Wood or other material used in stowing ship cargo to prevent its


A government tax on imported merchandise.

Glossary courtesy of: The Port of New Orleans www.pola.com, Georgia Ports Authority www.gaports.com, and the Port of Halifax www.portofhalifax.com.

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