Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

This article will provide you with an ultimate guide on the various types of ships which exist. Upon reading this article, you will get an idea about Cargo Ships, Container Ships, Bulk Carriers, Tankers, RoRo Ships, Offshore Vessels, Naval Ships, Special Purpose Ships and a lot more!

Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

Modern merchant vessels come in all shapes and sizes, and are designed according to the requirement i.e., the type of goods or cargo that they carry. Every ship owner wants the maximum return on their investment, which implies that construction or designing of a vessel not only depends on the present economic conditions but the future adaptability also plays an important role.

The following information can be obtained from the preliminary design of a ship:

  • Dimensions.
  • Displacement.
  • Stability.
  • Propulsive features and hull form.
  • Preliminary general arrangement.
  • Principal structural details.

The above-mentioned parameters play a very important role in determining the type of ship and vice-versa.

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Classification of Ships

Ships or vessels are classified into the following types:

Types of ShipsBasic Definition
1. Container ShipsContainer ships are the type of dry cargo ships, which carries it’s cargo in containers. They are most commonly used for the transport of commercial intermodal freight. Container ships are also known an Box-ships.
2. Bulk CarriersBulk carriers also fall under the category of dry cargo ships. They are used for the transport of unpackaged cargo in bulk quantities. Transport of grains, iron ore, cement, steel coils, coal and more are some of the examples of the goods they transport.
3. Tanker ShipsTanker ships are used for transferring (or storing) liquid or gaseous cargo in bulk. Oxygen, petrol, diesel, ethanol, oils, wine, and more are some of the examples of the liquid and gaseous cargo carried by tanker ships.
4. Passenger ShipsPassenger ships are the ones which are primarily indulged in carrying passengers in the high seas. These include cruise ships, ferries and ocean liners.
5. Roll-On / Roll-Off ShipsAlso known as Ro-Ro ships, these are primarily used for carrying wheeled cargo. Cars, trucks, buses, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, and railroad cars are some of the example of such wheeled cargo.
6. Offshore VesselsOffshore vessels are also known as Platform Supply Vessels. It’s primary function is to help in oil exploration purposes and are used for offshore construction requirements at the sea.
7. Naval ShipsThese ships are used for military purposes, and are also known as warships. Naval ships are usually resilient to attacks, and are armed with weapon systems.
8. Special Purpose VesselsThese are a range of vessels, specifically designed and constructed for a varied range of purposes.

Now, let us we look at each of the above mentioned ships in detail!

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Dry Cargo Ships

Dry cargo ships mainly comprise of bulk carriers and container ships. Bulk carriers are used in the transport of loose cargo, whereas container ships normally carry miscellaneous and manufactured goods through the use of containers.

1. Container Ships

Container Ships Image. Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

A ship structured specifically to hold large quantities of cargo compacted in different kinds of containers in known as a container ship or container vessel. In todays world containers have become the main method of transporting manufactured goods across the globe. They can accommodate almost anything ranging from food items to automobiles. Container Ships carry goods in large containers by a technique called containerization. Each container has several holes structured in them, each having its own ‘cell guides’ which facilitate the containers to fix in their slots. Once the first layer is loaded and the hatch is closed extra layers are loaded on top of each hatch. In order to maintain integrity and balance, the containers are latched with the vessel as well as the other containers. Now, let us take a look at different types of container vessels:

  • Panamax: These are medium sized vessels, with a carrying capacity of 65,000 – 80,000 DWT and usually have a length of 750 feet. They are equipped with seven cargo holds, and are designed to fit the locks of the Panama Canal.
  • Suezmax: Suezmax vessels are described as the largest ships, which are capable of transiting the Suez Canal. They usually have a length of approximately 899 feet, and have a carrying capacity of 150,000 – 160,000 DWT
  • Post Panamax: Also known as Neopanamax or New Panamax, these type of vessels are the ones which have a length of approximately 1,200 feet, and a capacity of 13,000 TEU
  • UCLV (Ultra Large Container Vessels): These have a length of approximately 1,200 feet, and are capable of transiting the Suez Canal. They are equipped with a capacity of approximately 14,000 TEU – 18,000 TEU.
  • Feeders: Container vessels with a capacity of less than 3,000 are called feeders.
  • Reefers / Refrigerated Container Ships: These are the container ships which carry refrigerated cargo mostly in refrigerated containers.

Read More: Container Ships: History, Types, Working, Design and Future

2. Bulk Carrier Ships

Bulk Carrier Ship Image. Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

These are the kind of vessels which transport usually dry cargo in large/bulk quantities. The cargo transported in such vessels is usually loose cargo i.e. without any specific packaging to it and it generally consists of items such as food grains, ores, coal and even cement. About 40% of the total merchant fleets in the world comprises of bulk carriers. South Korea is the leading builder of bulk carriers in the world. In terms of size, they are categorized as handysize, handymax, panamax, capesize, and very large bulk carriers. Listed below are different general types of bulk carriers:

  • Conventional Bulkers: A general bulk carrier, which is equipped with hatchways, cranes and transporters.
  • Geared Bulkers: These are equipped with cranes, conveyors or derricks, which enable them to load or discharge cargo, without the need of shore based equipment.
  • Gearless Bulkers: They need the use of shore based equipment, such as cranes, for loading and discharging cargo.
  • Self-discharging Bulker: These bulk carriers are equipped with conveyor belts, or an excavator which is fitted on a traverse, running over the ship’s entire hatch, with the ability to move sideways too. These features allow self-discharging bulkers to discharge it’s cargo quickly and efficiently.
  • Lakers: These types of bulk carriers are most commonly seen in the great lakes. They have a much higher lifespan than that of the other types of bulk carriers, as they operate on freshwaters, thus having lesser corrosion.
  • BIBO (Bulk In, Bags Out): They have the ability to unload cargoes in bags.

3. Tanker Ships

Tanker Ship Image. Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

Tankers are vessels specializing in carrying a large amount of liquid and gaseous cargo which includes crude oil, finished petroleum products, liquefied natural gas and various chemicals. Tankers were first designed in the mid-nineteenth century when the use of iron was very common. It was the economical and leakage reduction factors of iron which made in so popular. Tankers are divided into separate tanks in which cargo is pumped via the help of a pipe line system. Present day tankers consist of large ballast tanks for improved stability and they also feature various safety systems like the addition of inert gasses in order to reduce the risk of fire. Listed below are tankers divided on the basis of the type of cargo they carry:

  • Oil Tankers: Oil tankers mostly carry crude oil and its by products.
  • Chemical and Product Carriers: These are the type of vessels designed to transport chemicals and other liquid products in bulk. Some of the largest vessels afloat like the Very Large Crude Carriers(VLCC) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers(ULCC) are used for transporting different kinds of chemicals in bulk. Product Carriers are smaller in size as compared to crude oil carriers and they carry refined products from terminals to various ports. The products they transport include petroleum, asphalt, tar etc.
  • Liquified Gas Carriers: A gas carrier or a gas tanker(as called normally) are designed to  facilitate the transport of LPG, LNG or liquified chemical gases in bulk. The products they carry are under high pressure that’s why these ships are made spherical for more strength. LNG carriers are larger in size as compared to the LPG ones.

Based on their sizes the tankers are classified as:

  • VLCC
  • ULCC
  • Aframax
  • Panamax
  • Suezmax
  • Capsize
  • Handymax
  • Lighters
  • Handy

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4. Passenger Ships

Passenger Ship Cruise Ship Image. Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

As the name suggests, passenger ships are mainly used for transiting passengers, the most specialized cargo. Passenger Ships arrived in the 19th century but gained much recognition in the latter part of the 20th century.

Types of passenger ships are:

  • Cruise Ships:

Cruise ships are mainly used for leisure and recreational activities, they are similar to luxurious hotels with state-of-the-art facilities only difference being they are afloat in the ocean. They are further classified into:

  1. Pilgrimage Ships
  2. Cross Channel Ferries, Costal Ferries, Harbor Ferries
  3. Arctic and Atlantic Cruises
  • Ferries: Ships/vessels used for transiting passengers over small distance routes are called ferries. They are also known as connecting vessels on a short water route and are technically RoPax vessels.
  • Ocean Liners: The main difference between cruise ships and ocean liners is that, the former is designed for passengers to sail for pleasure voyages, with a focus on convenience and luxury, sailing near the coast, and more. While Ocean Liners are primarily designed to carry passengers from one point to another. Both of them however, can perform the tasks of one another.

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5. Roll-On / Roll-Off Ships

RoRo Roll On Roll Off Ship Image NYK Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

Popularly known as Ro-Ro ships, which is an acronym used for Roll-On / Roll-Off. These vessels are designed to carry wheeled cargo such as cars, trucks, buses, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, and railroad cars. These wheeled cargoes are driven on and off the vessels in their own wheels, or through a platform vessel. These vessels either have built-in, or shore-based ramps / ferry slips.

  • Pure Car Carrier (PCC) and Pure Car and Truck Carrier (PCTC) RoRo Ships: These vessels are indulged in carrying either purely cars, or cars and trucks, as suggested by their names.
  • ConRo (Container Vessel + Ro-Ro) Ship: These vessels are a type of hybrids. They have the ability to carry dry containerized goods, as well as wheeled cargo.
  • GenRo (General Cargo+ Ro-Ro) ships: These are normal cargo carrying vessels, which are also equipped with the ability to carry wheeled cargo. These are more compact and smaller, as compared to that of ConRo.
  • RoPax: These are another name for ferries, which have the capability to carry passengers, as well as vehicles onboard.
  • LMSR (Large, Medium-Speed RoRo):These vessels are used for military purposes, by the Military Sealift Command (U.S. Navy)
  • RoLo (Roll-On / Lift-Off): It is a type of hybrid vessel, which is equipped with ramps, serving the vehicle decks. Other cargo decks are also present, but are only accessible when the tides change by the use of cranes.
  • Complete RoRo Ships: These RoRo vessels do not have hatchways, and are inclined both inside, and in the outside.

6. Offshore Vessels

Offshore Vessel Image Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

These kind of vessels mainly help in oil exploration and are used for construction requirements at the sea. They carry goods and manpower to offshore oil platforms deep in the oceans. The play an important role in maintain the supply chains. They are usually about 30-90m long. They are further classified into the following:

  • Supply Ship: These are the vessels which supply to offshore rigs.
  • Pipe Layers: These type of vessels engage in laying pipes and cables.
  • Crane Barges or Floating Cranes: A crane ship/vessel is a ship which has a specialized crane in lifting heavy loads.
  • Semi-submersible Drill Rigs: These are mobile offshore drilling units which help in making stable platforms for drilling oil and gas.
  • Drill Ships: It is a merchant vessel designed for use in exploratory offshore drilling of new oil and gas wells or else for scientific drilling purposes.
  • Accommodation Barges: They could be a stand alone floating hotel or resort and can include space for cargo.
  • Production Platforms: These vessels to  are used to extract and process oil and natural gas or to temporarily store product until it can be brought to the shore for refining and marketing.
  • Floating Storage Unit(FSU): These are vessels mainly used for storage of oil and its by-products.
  • Floating Production and Storage Unit(FPSO): It is a kind of vessels used by the offshore oil and gas industry for the production and processing of hydrocarbons, and for the storage of oil.
  • Anchor Handling Vessels: These type of ships are used for offshore construction and installation operations.
  • Diving Vessels: These vessels are used by divers for underwater work.

7. Naval Ships

Naval Ship Warship Image Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

Naval ships are basically military vessels, which are usually damage resilient, and are armed with weapons. These ships are also popularly known as ‘Warships’. Following are the different types of naval ships (as used by the United States Navy):

  • Aircraft carriers: These are the ships which serves as swift sea-borne airfields. Aircraft carriers are primarily designed to conduct combat operations through armed aircrafts, which are used to attack surface, sub-surface, shore or airborne targets.
  • Surface combatant: These ships are large and are heavily armed. They are surface ships, primarily designed to engage with enemy forces in the seas.
  • Submarines: These are self-propelled submersible vessels, which are used for combats, auxiliary and for the purpose of research and development.
  • Patrol combatants: These ships are combatants, but it’s missions may extend beyond the coastal duties. They are equipped with adequate endurance, to indulge in operations which exceed forty-eight hours in the high seas, without the need for support.
  • Amphibious warfare: These ships are equipped with organic capabilities for the purpose of amphibious assaults, and can indulge in long duration operations at the high seas.
  • Combat logistics: These ships are primarily used for the purpose of providing underway supplies and replenishment to other fleet units.
  • Mine warfare: The primary purpose of these ships is to mine warfare in the high seas.
  • Coastal defense ships: These ships are used for coastal patrol and interdiction.
  • Sealift: These ships provide direct material support to the other deployed units operating far from the home base.
  • Service type craft: These are navy-subordinated crafts which includes non-self-propelled types of vessels too. They are primarily designed for the purpose of providing general support to combatant forces and shore-based establishments.

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8. Special-Purpose Vessels

Special Purpose Vessel Image Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

These vessels are designed and used for specific purposes. They include vessels like:

  • Tugs: A tugboat or a tug is a boat or ship that maneuvers vessels by pushing or towing them.
  • Ice Breaker Ships: These vessels are very useful as they cut ice deposits in extremely cold conditions to make water navigational.
  • Tenders: It is a boat or a large ship used to service or support other ships or vessels by transporting people and/or supplies.
  • Pilot Craft: They are used for the transportation of harbor pilots.
  • Cable Layers: These are cable laying vessels which hep in laying cables on the sea bed.
  • Research Vessels: They are special kind of vessels/ships used for carrying out a variety of research at sea. Some of the common types of research vessels are- seismic vessels, oceanographic vessels, polar vessels, hydrographic vessels etc.
  • Salvage Vessels: These are vessels engaged in salvage operation i.e. recovery of lost property at sea.
  • Livestock Carriers: These vessels carry animals/livestock.

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Some Other Types of Vessels

Below listed, are some other types of vessels:

Fishing Vessels

Fishing Vessel Image Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

Boats or ships that are used for commercial or recreational fishing are called fishing vessels. They are further classified into two categories:

  • Trawlers, Pulse Seiners: A trawler also known as a dagger is a commercial fishing ship designed to operate fishing trawls. Trawling is a method of fishing which involves actively dragging or pulling a trawl through the water behind more trawlers. A purse seine is a large wall of netting employed around the whole area or school of fish.
  • Factory Ships: Also known as a fish processing vessel, it is a large ocean going vessel with extensive onboard facilities for processing and freezing collected fish or whales.

High-Speed Craft

High Speed Craft ship Image Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

They are special kind of technologically advanced high-performance marine vehicles. Though most of these technologies are not used in commercial vessels, some few have been successfully implemented and tested in conventional merchant navy vessels of small scale. Some of the prominent type are multihulls including Wave Piercers, Small Waterplane Area, Twin Hull (SWATH), Surface Effect Ship (SES), Hovercraft, Hydrofoil, etc.

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Dredgers Dredger Ship Image Types of Ships: Ultimate Guide

These are the vessels which are used for carrying out dredging activities (a type of an excavation, which is usually carried underwater, for the purpose of gathering bottom sediments from the ocean bed and widening). Dredgers are equipped with excavation tolls for the purpose of removal of sand, and other such deposits from the ocean bed. They are also used for deep sea mining purposes.

Dredgers are of the following types:

  • Mechanical Dredgers
  • Hydraulic Dredgers

We hope this article helped you in your quest to attain maritime knowledge. If it did, make sure you help the others by sharing this article with the ones who’ll need this! Also, don’t forget to mention how this article helped you, in the comments below, we’ll love to know!

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