While their work is largely behind the scenes and doesn’t tend to factor into the thoughts and considerations of everyday consumers, freighters and large shipping vessels have a vital role to play in global logistics and supply chain services. For those who are somewhat involved in the shipping industry there is little need to become intimately familiar with the different types of shipping vessels in use today, but those who have a passing interest or are more heavily involved in the process may like to know more. 

 There is a wealth of finely detailed information to be found about these vessels though much of it is only relevant to those who are piloting the vessels, managing the loads, or otherwise working on and in them. Generally speaking, freight vessels are large and costly pieces of equipment, and they are charged with carrying millions of pounds worth of goods and products. All in all this means that there is a lot at stake financially, and this is before we have even considered the human element of safely operating these vessels.

Firstly, it takes a certain amount of time and training before a crew member is deemed safe and competent to operate such a vessel. Of course, the degree of training an individual crew member receives will depend on their duties and responsibilities, but every member of the crew needs to prove that they can live and work safely on board for the duration of the job. 

Training to live and work on board these vessels is ongoing because legislation and best practice within the industry are constantly evolving. The only way to ensure that any vessel of any class is being operated safely and correctly is to invest in the ongoing training and development of those involved in the industry. Training and certification also varies depending on the type of vessel in question, and it can certainly be said that some ships and boats are more complex than others. This highlights the importance of understanding the key differences between different types of vessels and how they need to be managed.

Container Ships

Some of the most common vessels used in freight are container ships. These are the true workhorses of freight by sea and are designed to carry a variety of cargo types. Most are built to specifications which makes them perfect for use with standardised containers. This means they are especially convenient for loading and unloading of compatible containers. From consumer goods to building materials and more, container ships allow shipping companies to move large volumes of goods between landmasses. 

Due to the nature of shipping, ships built for cargo transport must be created for fuel efficiency and capacity. The more product or material that can be transported at a time, the more cost effective the journey becomes. This also has ramifications for the environment as shipping is an industry that is known for its emissions. Cargo ships are powered by immense diesel engines which can pollute the air and sea. 

Bulk Carriers

Unlike container ships which carry standardised containers, bulk carriers are used to transport large volumes of unpackaged cargo such as coal, gravel, grains and mineral materials. Where containers are stacked on the flat deck of a container ship, this vessel classification instead has large cargo holds which make them ideal for loose goods. The holds are often divided into compartments, allowing a range of mineral, raw material or other loose goods to be transported safely. 


Unlike container ships and bulk carriers, tankers are designed for the transportation of fluids. A typical load may be crude oil and other petroleum products, liquid gases such as liquid natural gas (LNG), or bulk quantities of chemicals. As with all the different types of freight vessels, the size and specifications of each tanker can vary, and there are different rules and regulations that are applied depending on the type and quantity of cargo being moved. 

There are many subtypes in each class and they are quite interesting to look into. Some vessels were built with an incredibly niche use case in mind, which leads to some interesting developments in tech. The conditions in which a vessel will be used can also shape its form, such as vessels that are designed to operate in sea ice or in particularly turbulent seas.