Vessel Classifications

In order to be registered, an ocean-going ship must be certified to be of a particular type and size and be maintained to certain minimum standards. While most states (national governments) do not insist that ships be "classed," without a "class" category there would be considerable difficulties in operating a ship, as "class" is a requirement of most insurance companies and shippers using the vessel.

Classification Societies

(shipping) Classification societies are organizations that survey and classify ships, both during their construction and operation. They are the principal means by which standards of construction and maintenance are enforced, and ship certificates can be issued by Flag States.

Classification societies are licensed by "Flag States" to undertake this work on their behalf.

The principal classification societies are:

  • American Bureau of Shipping (U.S.) (ABS)
    www.eagle.org
  • Bureau Veritas (France) (BV)
    www.bureauveritas.com
  • China Classification Society (CCS)
    www.ccs.org.cn
  • Det Norske Veritas (Norway) (DNV)
    www.dnv.com
  • Germanischer Lloyd (Germany) (GL)
    www.glc.de
  • Hellenic Register of Shipping (Greece) (HRS)
    www.hrs.gr
  • Indian Register of Shipping (India) (IRS)
    www.irclass.org
  • Korean Register of Shipping (Korea) (KRS)
    www.krs.co.kr
  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping (UK) (LR)
    www.lr.org
  • Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (Japan) Class NK
    www.classnk.or.jp
  • Polski Rejestr Statkow (Poland) (PRS)
    www.prs.gda.pl
  • Registro Italiano Navale (Italy) (RINA)
    www.rina.it

Vessel Classification by Type of Cargo

Vessels are typed in general categories as follows:

  • Oil Tankers
    Designed for transporting crude oil
  • Bulk Carriers
    Designed to carry bulk solids such as grains, fertilizer and ores or bulk liquids such as refined petroleum products, chemicals and orange juice
  • General Cargo Ships
    Designed to carry break bulk cargo
  • Containerships
    Designed to transport standard-sized ocean freight containers
  • Other Types of Ships
    Liquified gas carriers
    Chemical tankers
    Miscellaneous tankers
    Ferries and passenger ships
    Other miscellaneous ships

Vessel Glossary

Aframax

(shipping) An ocean-going crude oil tanker vessel of standard size between 80,000 and 119,000 dwt that is the largest crude oil tanker size in the AFRA (Average Freight Rate Assessment) tanker rate system.

Capesize

(shipping) An ocean-going cargo vessel that is physically too large to fit through the locks of either the Panama or Suez Canals and therefore must voyage via Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America to get to or from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, or the Cape of Good Hope at the southernmost tip of South Africa to get to and from the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Capesize vessels generally serve deepwater terminals handling raw materials, such as iron ore and coal.

Handymax

(shipping) A small bulk or oil tanker vessel of 30,001 to 50,000 dwt that is a larger version of the popular Handysize vessel.

Handysize

(shipping) A small bulk or oil tanker vessel that is suited to tie up at a T2 type pier. These vessels are a maximum of of 10,000 to 30,000 dwt. These vessels are more maneuverable and have shallower draft than larger vessels and therefore make up the majority of the world's ocean-going cargo fleet.

Panamax

(shipping) An ocean-going cargo vessel of the maximum size possible to pass through the locks of the Panama Canal, which are 1000ft long by 110ft wide and 85ft deep. These vessels are typically of 50,000 to 80,000 dwt, 965ft (290m) in length; 106ft. (32.3m) beam; and 39.5ft (12.04m) draft.

Suezmax

(shipping) An ocean-going cargo vessel of the maximum size possible to pass through the locks of the Suez Canal in Egypt. This standard has evolved over time. Prior to 1967, a Suezmax was a maximum of 80,000 dwt. The canal was closed between 1967 and 1975 because of the Israel-Arab conflict. Upon reopening in 1975, after many modifications to the locks and canal itself, the maximum was increased to 150,000 dwt.

Ultra Large Crude Carrier (ULCC)

(shipping) An ocean-going crude oil tanker of 300,000 to 550,000 dwt. These are the largest vessels in the world and are used for carrying crude oil on long haul routes from the Arabian Gulf to Europe, America and the Far East, via the Cape of Good Hope. These vessels require custom built terminals for loading and discharge.

Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC)

(shipping) An ocean-going crude oil tanker of 200,000 to 299,999 dwt. These vessels have greater flexibility than ULCCs due to their smaller size and are used extensively in the Mediterranean, West Africa and the North Sea. These vessels can sometimes be ballasted through the Suez Canal.

Vessel Types

Ocean-going vessels are classified by the type of cargo they carry and their size expressed as dwt or deadweight tonnage. In some cases, a vessel is classified by its length and width. Since each classification society has slightly different standards, the size range for each vessel type may vary.

Bulk Carriers

These vessels carry dry (grains, fertilizers, phophates and ores) or wet (chemicals, orange juice, refined petroleum products) bulk cargo.

Handysize

Size: 10,000 - 30,000 dwt

These are small bulk carriers that make up the majority of the world's short haul fleet. Handysize can refer either to a bulk carrier or tanker.

Handymax

Size: 30,001 - 50,000 dwt

These are a larger version of the Handysize vessels and popular for both bulk and crude carriers. These vessels have a large variation in size and characteristics.

Panamax

Size: 50,001 dwt - 80,000 dwt

This is the maximum size ship that can pass through the locks of the Panama Canal. Locks are 1000ft long by 110ft wide and 85ft deep. Panamax dimensions are: overall length (LOA) of 965ft (290m); beam of 106ft (32.3m); draft of 39.5ft (12.04m).

Capesize

Size: 80,001 dwt - 199,000 dwt

These are vessels that are too large to pass through the locks of either the Panama or Suez Canals. As a result, these vessels must travel around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa or Cape Horn in South America to their destinations. These vessels also require deep-water ports.

Very Large Ore Carriers (VL Ore Carriers)

Size: 200,000+ dwt

These vessels are the largest bulk carriers and also cannot pass through either the Panama or Suez canals.

Tankers

These vessels carry refined petroleum products in numerous bulk tanks for safety and in order to carry a number of different products in a single voyage.

Tankers of less than 100,000 dwt are referred to as either "clean" or "dirty". Clean tankers carry refined petroleum products such as gasoline, kerosene, jet fuels, or chemicals. The so-called dirty vessels transport products such as heavy fuel oils or crude oil. Larger tankers usually only carry crude oil.

Coastal

Size: 3,001 dwt - 10,000 dwt

These are the smallest tankers and are generally used in coastal waters requiring a shallow draft. Coastal tankers typically carry kerosene, heating oils, fuels and chemicals.

Small

Size: 10,001 dwt - 19,000 dwt

This is the next size up tanker and is still often used in coastal waters. These also typically carry kerosene, heating oils, fuels and chemicals.

Handy or Handysize

Size: 19,001 dwt - 25,000 dwt

Alternate: 10,000 - 34,999 dwt

This is a popular-sized tanker, but typically not used in very long voyages

Medium or Handymax

Size: 25,001 dwt - 45,000

Alternate: 35,000 - 49,999 dwt

This is a larger "Handy" sized vessel.

Large/Long Range One (LRI)

Size: 45,001 - 70,000 dwt

Alternate: 45,000 to 79,999

Large/Long Range Two (LRII)

Size: 70,001 - 100,000+ dwt

Alternate: 80,000 - 159,999

Crude Oil Carriers

These vessels carry bulk crude oil in tanks.

Tankers of less than 100,000 dwt are referred to as either "clean" or "dirty". Clean tankers carry refined petroleum products such as gasoline, kerosene or jet fuels, or chemicals. The so-called dirty vessels transport products such as heavy fuel oils or crude oil. Larger tankers usually only carry crude oil.

Panamax

Size: 50,001 - 80,000 dwt

Approximate 32.2m beam limitation

This is the maximum size ship that can pass through the locks of the Panama Canal. Locks are 1000ft long by 110ft wide and 85ft deep. Panamax dimensions are: overall length (LOA) of 965ft (290m); beam of 106ft (32.3m); draft of 39.5ft (12.04m).

Aframax

Size: 80,000 - 119,000 dwt

This is the largest crude oil tanker size in the AFRA (Average Freight Rate Assessment) tanker rate system.

Suezmax

Size: 120,000 dwt - 150,000 dwt

This is the maximum size crude oil ship that can pass through the Suez Canal in Egypt.

Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC)

Size: 150,000 - 320,000 dwt

These are very large crude oil carriers that transport crude oil from the Gulf, West Africa, the North Sea and Prudhoe Bay to destinations in the United States, Mediterranean Europe and Asia. Although VLCCs are otherwise too large, it is possible to ballast these vessels through the Suez Canal.

Ultra Large Crude Carrier (ULCC)

Size: 321,000+ dwt

These are the largest man-made vessels that move. Currently, the largest ULCC is 564,939 dwt. These ships sail the longest routes, typically from the Gulf to Europe, the United States and Asia. They are so large that they require custom-built terminals for loading and unloading.