Shipping terminologies for your guidance

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A point beyond the mid-point of a ship's length, toward the stern relative to an object or point of reference ('abaft the fore hatch').


Abaft the beam

Further aft than the beam: a relative bearing of greater than 90 degrees from the bow: 'two points abaft the port beam'.



An action wherein a shipper/consignee seeks authority to abandon all or parts of their cargo.



A discount allowed for damage or overcharge in the payment of a bill.



On the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the centerline of the ship's keel.


Able Bodied Seamen

Some modern references claim that AB stands for able-bodied seaman as well as, or instead of, able seaman. Able seaman was originally entered using the abbreviation AB instead of the more obvious AS in ships' muster books or articles. Such an entry was likely to avoid confusion with ordinary seaman (OS). Later the abbreviation began to be written as A.B., leading to the folk-etymological able-bodied seaman. The correct term, able seaman, remains in use in legal documents, in seaman's papers, and aboard ship.


Able Seaman

An Able Seaman (also AB) is an unlicensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. An AB may work as a watch-stander, a day worker, or a combination of these roles.



On or in a vessel (see also 'close aboard'). Referring to cargo being put, or laden, onto a means of transport.


Above board

On or above the deck, in plain view, not hiding anything.


Above-water hull

The hull section of a vessel above waterline, the visible part of a ship. Also, topsides.


Absentee pennant

This is a special pennant flown to indicate the absence of a commanding officer, admiral, his chief of staff, or officer whose flag is flying (division, squadron, or flotilla commander).


Absolute bearing

The bearing of an object in relation to North. This can be either a true bearing, using the geographical or true North, or magnetic bearing, using magnetic North. For more information see 'bearing' and 'relative bearing'.



A time draft (or bill of exchange) which the drawee (the person or organization, typically a bank, who must pay a draft or bill) has accepted and is unconditionally obligated to pay at maturity. Drawee's act in receiving a draft and thus entering into the obligation to pay its value at maturity.


Acceptance (1)

An agreement to purchase goods under specified terms.


Acceptance of Goods

The process of receiving a consignment from a consignor, usually against the issue of a receipt. As from this moment the carrier bears responsibility for the consignment.


Accessorial Charges

Charges that are applied to the base tariff rate or base contract rate, e.g., bunkers, container, currency or destination/delivery.


Accommodation ladder

A portable flight of steps down a ship's side.


Account Party/Accountee

The purchasing party, the importer, the buyer involved in any transaction.


Acknowledgement of Receipt

A notification relating to the receipt of e.g. goods, messages and documents.



When a Bill of Lading is accepted or signed by a shipper or shipper's agent without protest, the shipper is said to acquiesce to the terms, giving a silent form of consent.


Act of God

Accidents of a nature beyond human control such as flood, lightning or hurricane, which are usually quoted as 'force majeure'.


Act of Man

In water transportation, the deliberate sacrifice of cargo to make the vessel safe for the remaining cargo. Those sharing in the spared cargo proportionately cover the loss.


Act of Pardon / Act of Grace

A letter from a state or power authorising action by a privateer. For more information see 'Letter of marque.'


Ad Hoc Charter

A one-off charter operated at the necessity of an airline or charterer.


Ad Valorem

This is a Latin term meaning 'according to value.' Import duty applied as a percentage of the cargo's dutiable value. Ocean Freight can be assessed based on the value of the merchandise as well.



This is a senior naval officer of Flag rank. In ascending order of seniority: Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, Admiral and Admiral of the Fleet (Royal Navy). The term derives from the Arabic, Amir al-Bahr (ruler of the sea).



A high naval authority in charge of a state's Navy or a major territorial component. In the Royal Navy (UK) the Board of Admiralty, executing the office of the Lord High Admiral, promulgates Naval law in the form of Queen's (or King's) Regulations and Admiralty Instructions.


Admiralty Court

A court which has jurisdiction over maritime questions pertaining to ocean transport, including contracts, charters, collisions, and cargo damages.


Admiralty Law

Admiralty law (also referred to as maritime law) is a distinct body of law which governs maritime questions and offences. It is a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private entities which operate vessels on the oceans. It deals with matters including marine commerce, marine navigation, shipping, sailors, and the transportation of passengers and goods by sea. Admiralty law also covers many commercial activities, although land-based or occurring wholly on land, that are maritime in character.



Afloat and unattached in any way to the shore or seabed, but not under way/power. It implies that a vessel is not under control and therefore goes where the wind and current take her (loose from moorings, or out of place). Also refers to any gear not fastened down or put away properly. It can also be used to mean 'absent without leave'.



To move cargo up-line to a vessel leaving sooner than the one initially booked.


Advance Against Documents

Load made on the security of the documents covering the shipment.


Advance Note

A note for one month's wages issued to sailors on their signing a ship's articles.


Advanced Charge

A charge paid by a carrier to an agent or to another carrier, which the delivering carrier then collects from the consignee. Such charges are usually for agents' forwarding fees and incidental expenses paid out of pocket for account of the shipment by an agent or other carrier.



Shipment of goods on shipper's own account. A bill of adventure is a document signed by the master of the ship that carries goods at the owner's risk.


Advice of Shipment

A notice sent to a local or foreign buyer advising that shipment has gone forward and contains details of packing, routing, etc. A copy of the invoice is usually enclosed and sometimes, if desired, a copy of the bill of lading.


Advice, Letter of

This document is sent by one party to another to whom a shipment has been sent, on consignment or otherwise. It involves a description of the goods sent, the carrier or other type of transportation being used, the date of departure, and any additional pertinent data. Note: (Bankers use the term letter of advice when notifying interested parties of such actions as the opening of credits, the drawing of drafts and the payment or non-payment of drafts.)


Advising Bank

A bank operating in the country of the seller which handles Letters of Credit on behalf of a Foreign Bank.


Advisory Capacity

A term indicating that a shipper's agent or representative is not empowered to make definite decisions or adjustment without the approval of the group or individual represented.



A company that controls, or is controlled by another company, or is one of two or more commonly controlled companies.


Affreightment, Contract of

An agreement made by an ocean carrier to provide cargo space on a vessel at a specified time and for a specified price to accommodate an exporter or importer.



The condition of a vessel which is floating freely (not aground or sunk). This is a term more generally used to describe vessels in service e.g. 'the company has 10 ships afloat'.



Towards the stern (of the vessel).


Afternoon watch

The period of duty/working hours (or 'watch') on board a vessel between 12:00hrs to 16:00hrs.


Against All Risks

An insurance policy which provides coverage against all types of loss or damage as opposed to specific ones.


Agency Agreement

The carrier line appoints the port agent and defines the specific duties and areas of responsibility of that agent.


Agency Fee

This is the fee payable by a ship-owner or ship operator to a port agent.


Agency for International Development

This is also known as USAID, an American Federal Agency primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid.


Agency tariff

A tariff published by an agent on behalf of several carriers.



A person authorised to transact business for and in the name of another person or company. Types of agents are: brokers, commission merchants, resident buyers, sales agents or manufacturer's representatives.


Aggregate Shipment

Numerous shipments from different shippers to one consignee that are consolidated and treated as a single consignment.


Agreed Valuation

The value of a shipment agreed upon in order to secure a specific freight shipment.


Agreed Weight

The weight prescribed by agreement between carrier and shipper for goods shipped in certain packages or a certain number.



Said of a vessel resting on or touching the ground or bottom of a waterway.



Forward of the bow.



A cry to draw attention on board. This is usually a term used to hail a boat or a ship, as 'Boat ahoy!'



When the boat is lying broadside to the sea. Also to ride out a storm with no sails and helm held to leeward. Also to ride out a storm with no sails and helm held to leeward.


Aid to Navigation

Any device external to a vessel or aircraft specifically intended to assist navigators in determining their position or safe course, or to warn them of dangers or obstructions to navigation.


Air Waybill

A bill of lading for Air Transport. This covers both domestic and international flights transporting goods to a specified destination. Technically, it is a non-negotiable instrument of air transport which serves as the receipt for the shipper, indicating that the carrier has accepted the goods listed therein and obligates itself to carry the consignment to the airport of destination according to specified conditions.


All Hands

The entire ship's company, including officers and enlisted personnel.


All In

The total price to move cargo from its origin to its destination; inclusive of all charges, as opposed to detailed charges of Seafreight + + +.


All night in

Having no night watches.


All Water

Transport exclusively by water.



A collision between a moving vessel and a stationary object.



A share of the capacity of a means of transport assigned to a certain party, e.g. a carrier or an agent, for the purpose of the booking of cargo for a specific voyage.


All-Risk Clause

An insurance provision that all loss or damage to goods is insured except any that is self-caused. For more information see All-Risk Insurance.


All-Risk Insurance

A clause included in marine insurance policies to cover loss and damage from external causes, such as fire, collision, pilferage, etc. but not against innate flaws in the goods, such as decay, germination, nor against faulty packaging, improper packing/ loading or loss of market, nor against war, strikes, riots and civil commotions. For more information see Marine Cargo Insurance.



The point above the ship's uppermost solid structure; overhead or high above.



By the side of a ship or pier. A phrase referring to the side of a ship. Goods delivered 'alongside' are to be placed on the dock or barge within reach of the transport ship's tackle so that they can be loaded.


Alternative Rates

The privilege to use the rate producing the lowest charge.


Always Afloat

This is a widely used contract term requiring that a vessel should not rest on the ground. In some ports the ship is aground when approaching or at berth.


Always Within Institute Warranties Limits

Insurance term.


Ambient Temperature

The temperature of a surrounding body. The ambient temperature of a container is the atmospheric temperature to which it is exposed.



A written notice of a change in the terms of a letter of credit. The amendment becomes an integral part of the original letter of credit.


American Bureau of Shipping

This is one of several classification societies; with a mission to promote the security of life, property and the natural environment, primarily through the development and verification of standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine-related facilities (i.e. vessels). The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), first chartered in the State of New York in 1862 to certify ship captains. It is a classification society, with a mission to promote the security of life, property and the natural environment, primarily through the development and verification of standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine-related facilities. At the end of 2006, ABS was the third largest class society with a classed fleet of over 10,000 commercial vessels and offshore facilities. ABS' core service is the provision of classification services through the development of standards called ABS Rules. These rules form the basis for assessing the design and construction of new vessels and the integrity of existing vessels and marine structures.


American Bureau of Shipping (1)

This is one of several classification societies; with a mission to promote the security of life, property and the natural environment, primarily through the development and verification of standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine-related facilities (i.e. vessels).


American Terms

A (Marine Insurance) term used to differentiate between the conditions of American Policies from those of other nations, principally England.



In the middle portion of a ship, along the line of the keel.



An object designed to prevent or slow the drift of a ship, attached to the ship by a line or chain; typically a metal, hook-like or plough-like object designed to grip the bottom under the body of water. For more information see 'sea anchor'.


Anchor ball

A round black shape hoisted in the forepart of a vessel to show that it is anchored.


Anchor buoy

A small buoy secured by a light line to the anchor, designed to indicate the position of the anchor on the sea bed.


Anchor Chain or Anchor Cable

The chain connecting the ship to the anchor.


Anchor Detail

A team of men who handle ground tackle when the ship is anchoring or getting underway.


Anchor Light

White light displayed by a ship at anchor. Two such lights are displayed by a ship over 150 feet (46 m) in length.


Anchor Rode

The anchor line, rope or cable connecting the anchor chain to the vessel. For more information see 'Rode'.


Anchor Watch

A consignment of crew tasked with ensuring that the anchor is holding and the vessel is not drifting. It is very important during rough weather and at night. Most marine GPS units boast Anchor Watch alarm capabilities.



A suitable place for a ship to anchor; usually an area of a port or harbour.


Anchor's Aweigh

The term used when an anchor is just clear of the sea bed.



Traditional lower-deck slang term for the Royal Navy.


Anglian Container Services
(A.C.S. )

This is the container services business operated by MSC (UK) Ltd, with primary business activities including container storage, cleaning, repairs, conversions, customisations and reefer pre-tripping.


Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee
(A.S.D.I.C. )

A type of sonar used by the Allies for detecting submarines during the Second World War.


Anti-submarine warfare

Anti-submarine warfare


Any Time, Day or Night, Sundays & Holidays Included

A chartering term referring to when a vessel will work.



Usually refers to a rating that applies to an article regardless of weight.


Apparent Good Order

When freight appears to be free of damage; so far as a general survey can determine.


Apparent Wind

The combination of the true wind and the headwind caused by the boat's forward motion. For example, it causes a light side wind to appear to come from well ahead of the beam.



Determination of the dutiable value of imported merchandise by a Customs official who follows procedures outlined in their country's tariff, such as the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930.


Arbitrary (ARB)

A stated amount of money over a fixed rate for transit to one destination to make a rate to another point further along, for example: $1400 for Boston-Antwerp + $140 ARB for Rotterdam).



The process of referring to an agreed person for judgment on issues of a dispute; without requiring the use of courts.


Arbitration Clause

A standard clause to be included in the contracts of exporters and importers, as suggested by the American Arbitration Association. It states that any controversy or claim will be settled by arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association.


Arc of Visibility

The portion of the horizon over which a lighted aid to navigation is visible from seaward.



A ship's weapons.



The procedure whereby, in common law jurisdictions, a ship (and sometimes cargo and/or freight) may be seized by an admiralty court at the institution of or during an action 'in rem' - against a thing rather than a person - (infra) to provide pre-judgment security for the plaintiff's maritime claim.


Arrival Date

The date on which goods or a means of transport is due to arrive at the delivery site of the transport.


Arrival Notice

A notice from the ocean carrier to the 'notify party,' indicating the vessel's estimated arrival date; identifying shipment details such as number of packages, weight, and container number; and indicating when free time expires. Often includes a freight invoice.


Articles of War

Regulations governing the military and naval forces of UK and USA; read to every ship's company on commissioning and at specified intervals during the commission.



A vessel that is on the beach, shore or land.



A term commonly used in connection with a bill of lading. It involves the transfer of rights, title and interest in order to assign goods by endorsing the bill of lading.


Assignment of Proceeds

A stipulation within a letter of credit in which some or all of the proceeds are assigned from the original beneficiary to one or more additional beneficiaries.



Toward the stern; an object or vessel that is abaft another vessel or object. For more information see Port Side for diagram of all the ship's directions.


Asylum Harbour

A harbour used to provide shelter from a storm.


Athwart, athwartships

At right angles to the fore and aft or centerline of a ship; A direction across the width of a vessel.


Atlantic Container Line

A container carrier operating large RORO (Roll-On Roll-off) ships between Europe and North America.


Atlantic Container Line (1)

A container carrier operating large RORO (Roll-On Roll-off) ships between Europe and North America.


Automated Broker Interface

This is the U.S. Customs' computer system which brokers use to file importers' entries electronically. An electronic system allowing customhouse brokers and importers to interface via computer with the US Customs Service for transmitting entry and entry summary data on imported merchandise.


Automated Broker Interface (1)

This is the U.S. Customs' computer system which brokers use to file importers' entries electronically.


Automated Commercial Environment system

The U.S. Customs' master computer system to replace the Automated Commercial System.


Automated Commercial System

This is the U.S. Customs' master computer system, which is being replaced by the Automated Commercial Environment system (ACE).


Automated Manifest System

This is the U.S. Customs' computerized system used to automate the flow of customs-related information among customs brokers, importers, and carriers. A part of Custom's Automated Commercial System (ACS), controls imported merchandise from the time a carrier's cargo manifest is electronically transmitted to Customs until control is relinquished to another segment of the ACS.


Automated System for Customs Data

The Automated System for Customs Data is a computerised system designed by the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) to administer a country's Customs. Currently there are three different generations of ASYCUDA in use: ASYCUDA 2.7, ASYCUDA++ and ASYCUDA World. All of them were built using different paradigms and solutions available at the time of conception, being ASYCUDA World the most recent one and less used so far (early 2009). UNCTAD's premise was to build a computer system to assist customs authorities (or their local equivalent) all over the world to automate and control their core processes and obtain timely, accurate and valuable information to support government projections and planning.


Automatic Identification System

A short range coastal tracking system used on ships and by Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships and VTS stations. Information such as unique identification, position, course, and speed can be displayed on a screen or an ECDIS. AIS is intended to assist the vessel's watch standing officers and allow maritime authorities to track and monitor vessel movements, and integrates a standardized VHF transceiver system such as a LORAN-C or Global Positioning System receiver, with other electronic navigation sensors, such as a gyrocompass or rate of turn indicator. The International Maritime Organization's (IMO) International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires AIS to be fitted aboard international voyaging ships with gross tonnage (GT) of 300 or more tons, and all passenger ships regardless of size. It is estimated that more than 40,000 ships currently carry AIS class A equipment.


Autoridad del Canal de Panama
(A.C.P. (Spanish))

The Panama Canal Authority.


Avast - Stop!

A command to cease or desist from whatever is being done.



A common marine insurance term. An early meaning (c.1500) of the word average is 'damage sustained at sea'. The root is found in Arabic as awar, in Italian as avaria and in French as avarie. Hence an average adjuster is a person who assesses an insurable loss. Marine damage is either particular average, which is borne only by the owner of the damaged property, or general average, where the owner can claim a proportional contribution from all the parties to the marine venture. The type of calculations used in adjusting general average gave rise to the use of 'average' to mean 'arithmetic mean'.


Average Adjusters

In general average affairs average adjusters are entrusted with the task of apportioning the loss and expenditure over the parties interested in the maritime venture and to determine which expenses are to be regarded as average or general average.


Avoirdupois Pound

A measure of weight or mass equal to 0.4535924277 kilograms.



A vessel that is so low in the water that the water is constantly washing across the surface.



The position of an anchor just clear of the bottom.


Aye, aye

The reply to an order or command to indicate that it, firstly, is heard; and, secondly, is understood and will be carried out. ('Aye, aye, sir' to officers). Also 'yarr'.


Azimuth Circle

An instrument used to take bearings of celestial objects.


Azimuth Compass

An instrument employed for ascertaining the position of the sun with respect to magnetic north. The azimuth of an object is its bearing from the observer measured as an angle clockwise from true north.