Cargo Ship Capacity: Understanding the Weight and Displacement Factors

Cargo Ship Capacity: First of all, the weight of a vessel is a highly fascinating feature. In contrast to all other physical things, displacement is typically mentioned when discussing the weight or mass of a vessel or any other floating item.

According to Archimedes’ principle, this displacement, as we know, is equal to the mass of the water the vessel displaces to stay afloat and is nothing more than the mass of the floating structure itself. Alternatively, this quantity may also be stated in terms of volumetric displacement, which indicates the volume of water displaced by the weight, which is equal to the vessel’s weight.

Cargo Ship Capacity

The displacement can be separated even more into:

  • Deadweight and lightweight

The weight of the ship itself, comprising its structural weight as well as the weight of its systems, machinery, equipment, cablings, piping, ducting, wiring, outfitting, and other components, is essentially what makes a vessel lightweight. The weight of the ship’s cargo, supplies, gasoline, freshwater, ballast, passengers, crew, food, and other effects is known as its deadweight. Therefore, a ship that has everything in deadweight is essentially in lightship state.

While displacement is the general term for any kind of vessel the size of a vessel is more precisely designated based on its kind. It might be confusing to refer to cargo and typical commercial vessel types like passenger ships in different ways when discussing them.

For example, rather than the displacement, a passenger ship is typically referred to by the maximum number of passengers it can accommodate. For instance, a 1000-passenger ferry can accommodate a maximum of 1000 passengers. Another often used phrase, “deadweight tonnage,” describes the vessel’s greatest weight carrying capacity, which is equal to the vessel’s deadweight measurement.

In our earlier articles, we studied about various standardized measurements, such as net tonnage (NT) and gross tonnage (GT).

To sum up, GT is determined by a vessel’s entire usable interior space, while NT is determined by the portion of GT that generates commercial revenue, i.e., the areas set aside for cargo, freight, or passengers (passenger ships).

They are very different from deadweight tonsnage because they include the entire weight of the ship that may be carried, including additional deadweight expendables like water, consumables, ballast, fuel, and lubricants.

The purpose and utility of cargo ships that are loaded with goods are typically taken into consideration.

Bulk Ships

Break Bulk Ships, what is Break Bulk Ships, types of Break Bulk Ships
(Credit: Sarvam Logistics)

The majority of these boats’ uses are for the transportation of bulk dry freight, or DWT tons as they are more commonly known. As a result, when a bulk carrier is approved to carry 100,000 DWT, it indicates that it can carry 100,000 metric tons of cargo in its holds.

As we have seen in a number of our earlier articles, bulk carriers come in a wide range of sizes, weighing anywhere from 500 tonnes to an incredible 300000 tons. The Pacific Flourish, with a maximum carrying capacity of about 400000 tons, is now the largest bulk carrier!

General-purpose carriers are a larger class of bulk carriers that are often limited to carrying dry cargo. Similar to this, other specific sub-types of bulk carrier vessels that are not classified according to their deadweight tonnage are called ore carriers, coal carriers, lumber carriers, etc. For dry cargo vessels, GT and NT are frequently utilized in addition to DWT.

  • Capesize: The largest dry cargo ship size. It is capable of carrying 110,000 tonnes or more of raw materials, mainly ore or grain. As a percentage of the world’s bulk carrier fleet, it represents 9%.

  • Panamax: A Panamax is a vessel that travels through the Panama canal, and its size is limited by the canal’s size restrictions. It has a draught of approximately 40 to 42 feet for the old Panamax model and about 50 feet for the newer model, and its cargo capacity is typically about 60,000 tonnes for Panamax and almost double for New Panamax. About 19% of the bulk carrier fleet is comprised of these vessels.

  • Handymax: Approximately 24% of the world’s bulk carrier fleet has a draft of 30 to 35 feet, a load capacity of 37,000 tonnes, and a draught of 30 to 35 feet.

  • Handysize: Smaller than handymax and with a load capacity of 30,000 tonnes. They represent 48% of the bulk carrier fleet.

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Panamax Tankers
(Credit: Splash 247)

Similar to bulkers, tankers are also denoted by their deadweight tonnage, which can be expressed as tonnes or DWT, in addition to GT and NT. This group includes tankers carrying chemicals, gas, and crude oil, among others. The vessel’s maximum capacity for carrying liquid cargo determines these. Similar to bulkers, liquid cargo ships come in a wide range of sizes—from 500 DWT to over 400000 DWT.


These are among the most popular kinds of commercial cargo ships, carrying conventional containers as packaged goods. The majority of the time, they are identified more in terms of the total number of containers they can transport than the entire displacement tonnage.

Do you recall the TEU units we frequently discussed? TEUs are typically used to indicate containerships. Therefore, a 10000 TEU containership basically indicates that it can accommodate up to 10000 standard-size 1-TEU containers. On the other hand, they also state that they are capable of transporting 5000 2-TEU or a mix of 5000 1-TEU and 2500 2-TEU containers.

Ro-Ro and Ro-pax

MV Global Mercy
(Credit: Stena Roro)

There are other methods to characterize other kinds of commercial boats. Cars and other wheeled goods are the primary purpose for Ro-Ro vessels, which are measured in lane meters or other specific units. Conventionally, a deck area of one lane meter is equal to two square meters.

One may calculate a Ro-Ro’s total carrying capacity based on vehicle sizes and available lane meters. Ro-pax vessels are characterized as a combination of the lane meters and the number of people they can transport. Ro-pax vessels are carriers of both vehicles and passengers.

Sometimes the only way to identify these vessels is by how many cars they can carry. In addition to this, they are also referred to as GT or NT.

Ships that are chilled and used to transport perishable goods are known as reefer ships. For this specific cargo to reach the final port safely, a certain temperature is needed.

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The temperature under control is between 12º and -30º C. One can carry up to 600,000 square feet of cargo. To reduce heat build-up, ships are typically painted white since white reflects more light and absorbs less heat.

It is also important to note that these ships are typically speedier than other cargo ships because of the nature of the load.

Oil Tankers

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A large ship built for the bulk transportation of oil or its byproducts. Tankers carrying gas and oil can berth offshore. able to hold two million barrels of oil.

Gas tankers

Gas tankers are vessels intended to carry natural gas or liquefied gas. Because of the nature of the cargo, sophisticated machinery and design are required, which raises the cost of construction.

Gas tankers can be classified into two primary types: LNG, which transports liquefied gas at temperatures close to -170º Celsius, and LPG, which transports the load at -50º Celsius.

The vessel’s main deck is lined with spherical tanks that hold the chemical load.

Chemical tankers

A container intended for the bulk transportation of chemicals, such as ammonia, gasoline, and phenol. With a DWT ranging from 5,000 to 35,000 or even 50,000, these are hardly the biggest cargo ships. Chemical tankers have stainless steel tanks and a double hull.

Livestock carrier ships

Livestock Carriers, what are Livestock Carriers, types of Livestock Carriers
(Credit: NauticExpo)

Created for the express purpose of transferring a large number of live animals along with all of their travel need, such as food, medicine, and air ventilation. The animal pens in certain livestock carriers may be set up with open decks.

Heavy-Lift ships

Designed to support massive or extremely heavy loads, like industrial machinery, wind turbines, and jet bridges.

At Suisca Group, we are prepared to offer all of the answers and solutions you require when discussing the requirements of your company and the various kinds of cargo ships. Reliability, a team that is dedicated to its work around the clock, and the care and expertise gained from over thirty years of experience. No matter where you are, Suisca Group is your marine partner. Get in contact with us, and our knowledgeable staff will assist you in locating the answer you require.

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