Do "Port" and "Harbor" mean the same thing in marine terms?

Port of Gdynia
Port of Gdynia

During our email exchanges or telephone conversations with customers, we often encounter maritime terms that are used interchangeably, but their meanings are not always the same. Let us explore a few of them.

„Port” and „Harbor”

A harbor is a sheltered body of water where ships can seek refuge from stormy weather. It is typically surrounded by natural barriers such as land or rocks, or by artificial barriers like breakwaters. The primary function of a harbor is to provide safe anchorage for vessels. A secondary function is to facilitate the transfer of goods and passengers between ships and the shore.

Conversely, a port refers specifically to the commercial function of handling goods and passengers. In some languages, like Polish, the term „port” is used in broader and narrower senses.

„Quay”, „Wharf”, and „Berth”

A quay is a platform constructed using concrete, stone, or metal to allow ships to dock parallel to the shore. If the construction is built on piles instead of a solid fill, it is called a wharf.

A berth is an area where the ship is moored onto the bollards and where the cargo is loaded or discharged on and off the ships. So, a berth can be a specific part of a quay or a wharf. If a berth takes the full length of a quay or wharf, they, in fact, mean the same thing. It is worth mentioning that sometimes the land area surrounding the berth is also referred to as a quay.

„Pier” and „Dock”

A pier is a structure built on piles stretching perpendicular to the shore and extending into navigable water. Similarly to a quay, it can be used for loading or discharging cargo or landing passengers. At the same time, it can also serve as a structure protecting the harbor from more open waters.

The word „dock” in American English is used interchangeably with „pier,” assuming they mean the same thing. Both terms also refer to an area between or next to a man-made structure.

However, in British English, a dock is an enclosed area of water in a port used for unloading, loading, repairing, or building ships.

Source: Own elaboration


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