Types of Ships and What Do They Do!

Types of ships

Most probably, you might have seen various types of ships in your life. They all appear similar, don’t they? That’s what i feel before pursuing my career as an marine engineer. Chances are; you are going to join merchant navy or too passionate about ships to look for “types of ships”.

Knowing the different types of ships helps in identification, complying with safety regulations, certificates and training in case you want to be a mariner. Each ship is unique in itself with quite similarities in between.

The different types of ships in commercial shipping or merchant navy is classified on the basis of its size, cargo, function and construction. You might know them already ! ( If you are a mariner or you have some relatives in merchant navy ). If not, there are mainly six types of ships out there in commercial shipping. We will discuss that in details once; we learn what ship is and its brief history.

What is Ship?

Ships are defined as large complex vessels capable of sailing across the oceans and are of more than 500 tonnage. They are large, robust and strong vessels which carry large goods, perform war efforts, carry people and transport raw materials. Ships are different that boats, you can check their differences from link below;

Difference between Ship and boat

History of Commercial Ships (Brief)

Long before the discovery of trucks, planes and trains; ships were used to transport goods from one part of the world to another. Earlier they sail and were much closer to boats. Nowadays these ships have grown bigger with around 90% of world’s trade depending on them. Against the earlier days when a single type of ship use to carry different types and grades of cargo. Nowadays ship’s have became complex and efficient, designed for a certain type of cargo. They are all made up of welded steel (Mostly) with an life expectancy of 20 to 30 years.

Types of Ships

The different types of ships in global shipping:


Container Cargo Ship

Container ships are designed to carry large containers. Shipping containers are of the size of a truck with 20 feet by 8 feet to 10 feet by 8 feet in dimension. These containers are designed in a way that; they can be easily transported through trains, trucks and ships without any problem. These ships are on liner trade delivering goods from one place to another across the globe.

A typical container ship contains around 10-15 thousand containers in its single or double deck hull. They are used to transport world’s manufactured goods; such as processed food, electronics, machinery, spares, furnitures and tools.

Bulk Carrier

Bulk Carrier

Bulk Carrier

The power house of world’s economic engine; these ships carry the essential raw materials for various industries from Agro based to heavy manufacturing. These ships are also called as bulkees or frights and are easily identified by the large hydraulic hatches covering its holds. They are designed to carry unpacked raw materials such as wood, raw grain, ore and coal.

In these ships; cargo is poured down directly into the holds according to the charter plan. These ships are around 800-1200 feet long and account for 15-18% of the total merchant fleet.

Car carrier

Ro-Ro Ship

Ro-Ro Vessels

Most vehicles that you use on a daily basis are transported across the globe using a special type of ships known as Ro-Ro or car carriers. Basically they are like a big floating garage (Yes ! like that in your house); where newly made cars are parked, latched and then shipped.

Generally these ships are 500-700 feet long with high free board. These ships are used to transport vehicles like trucks, tractors and cars all over the globe in a safe efficient way.


It is a special type of ship constructed to carry heavy bulk of liquid cargo. They are primarily used to carry petroleum and its derivatives; but can also be used to carry water, juice, wine, chemicals etc. They might look similar to those of bulk carrier apart from missing hatches; (There are small manholes provided for inspection and maintenance purposes). These ships are normally quite large in size with a large part of its fleet being super tankers.

Tankers can be classified into following categories depending on its cargo:

Oil Tankers

They carry oil and its derivatives and are further classified into product and crude tankers. Crude oil is used to transport crude oil while product tanker is used to transport refined oil; such as diesel, jet fuels and petrol.

Gas Tankers

These are the modified form of tankers well suited for transporting gases such as LPG, Natural gas, LNG, Etheline etc. They are further classified into fully pressurized, semi refrigerated, fully refrigerated, ethylene and LPG, LNG ships.

Chemical Tankers

They are another type of modified tankers well suited for carrying hazardous chemicals; such as acid, base, alcohols and other reactive chemicals.

Juice & Wine Tankers

According to their name; they are used to transport juice and wine from one place to another.

Cruse Ship

Cruse Ship

Passenger Ships

Half a century ago, passenger ships were used for going one place to another by many people across the world. But today passengers ships are mostly used as a cruise ships for pleasure voyage. They provide luxury voyage with beautiful sight seeing. They are like a five start hotel floating on the sea which focus on the user experience rather than reaching destination on or before time.

Specialized Support Vessels

These are the ships used to assist the work of commercial vessels like ice breakers, dredging vessels and other offshore support vessels. They can also be used for specialized purposes such as laying underground sea cables and other research purposes.

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