About The Industry


Glossary of Industry Terms

For a comprehensive list of shipping terms, provided by the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) click here.

Summary of General Industry Terms

  • Bill of lading (B/L) - This is the official legal document that represents ownership of cargo; the negotiable document to receive cargo; and, the contract for cargo between shipper and carrier.

  • Box - Another (less formal) name for a shipping container. This is how they are often referred to in the industry.

  • Brake horsepower - a common unit of power, the rate at which work is done. The power of cars and other motors of engine-driven vehicles, including container ships, is often measured in brake horsepower.

  • Break bulk - loose cargo, such as cartons, stowed directly in the ship's hold as opposed to containerized or bulk cargo. The volume of break bulk cargo has declined dramatically worldwide as containerization has grown.

  • Bulk cargo - commodity cargo that is transported unpackaged in large quantities. These cargos are usually dropped or poured as a liquid or solid, into a bulk carrier's hold. Examples of bulk cargo are grain, seed, and coal and iron ore.

  • Carrier - any individual, company or corporation engaged in transporting goods. Container shipping lines are sometimes referred to as ocean carriers.

  • Charter rate - a rate for shipping freight agreed upon between the owner of a vessel and the person wanting to use the vessel (the 'charterer').

  • CO2 emissions - abbreviation for carbon dioxide emissions. CO2 results from the burning of fossil fuels such as petroleum. It is broadly considered to be a factor contributing to global warming.

  • Container - a reusable steel rectangular box for carrying cargo that first came into common use about 50 years ago. The sizes of containers are standardized so that they can easily be moved between specially adapted containers ships, trains and trucks.

  • Container terminal - a docking, unloading and loading area within a port designed to suit the sizes and needs of container ships.

  • FEU - 'Forty-foot Equivalent Unit'. This is a container that is the same height and width as a TEU but twice the length. As a result, it has twice the capacity.

  • Freight rates - The charge made by a shipping line for the transportation of freight aboard one of its ships from one place to another.

  • Gantry crane - a type of crane used to load and unload container ships. It lifts objects with a hoist and can move horizontally on a rail or pair of rails.

  • Intermodalism - a system whereby standard-sized cargo containers can be moved seamlessly between different 'modes' of transport, typically specially adapted ships known as containerships, barges, trucks and trains. Because the cargo does not need to be unloaded from the container every time it is moved from one mode to the other it is a very efficient and fast system of transportation.

  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) - prescribes the numbers of lifeboats and other emergency equipment that ships must have, as well as safety procedures including continuous radio watches when a ship is at sea.

  • International Maritime Organization (IMO) - a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent marine pollution from ships. It is also involved in legal matters, including liability and compensation issues and the facilitation of international maritime traffic.

  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) - an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. It was the ISO that prescribed the standard size of shipping containers to make global container trade more efficient.

  • International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) - a code agreed between the signatories of the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) on minimum security arrangements for ships, ports and Coast Guard agencies. The Code was introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the overseer of the original SOLAS agreement, in the wake of fears of terrorist attacks on ships and ports after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001.

  • Knot - a nautical measurement of speed equal to 1.15 miles or 1.85 kilometers per hour on land. The speed of ships is measured in knots.

  • Maiden voyage - the very first journey a ship makes after being delivered from the ship-yard.

  • Manifest - a list of cargo being carried by a ship as declared by the shipper.

  • Pallet - a term used for a load-carrying platform onto which loose cargo is stacked before being placed inside a container. It is designed to be moved easily by fork-lift trucks.

  • Reefer - Industry term for a temperature-controlled container. Inside each one is a complex system of coils, wires and electrical fittings, which are managed by a computer that controls everything from the temperature and humidity to ventilation and gas levels, all working to prevent the deterioration of fresh food or other sensitive goods over long distances and periods of time.

  • Shipper - any person or organization paying for its cargo to be shipped from one place to another.

  • TEU - 'Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit'. This is the industry standard to measure containers. A 20-foot container's dimensions are twenty feet long (6.09 meters), 8 feet wide (2.4 meters) and 8 feet six inches high (2.6 meters). These dimensions have been set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

  • US Customs - Trade Partner Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) - a voluntary supply chain security program led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and focused on improving the security of companies' supply chains with respect to terrorism.

  • Vessel - another word for a boat or ship. Container ships are sometimes referred to as vessels.

  • World Customs Organization (WCO) - an intergovernmental organization comprised of customs administrations from 170 countries who participate to communicate and co-operate on customs issues.