• A port is a docking place for ships on the coast of the ocean, a river, or a lake. Ships dock at ports to load and unload their cargo and passengers.

    Ports play a crucial role in transporting goods and raw materials. They are often categorized by their purpose. For example, Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, is an oil port. Concarneau, France, is a fishing port. Gibraltar, a territory of Great Britain, is a naval port, used by the military. Nassau, Bahamas, is a cruise ship and tourism port.

    Ships usually have more than one port of call, or place where they dock. Before the construction of the Panama Canal, a ship traveling from New York, New York, to San Francisco, California, would have dozens of ports of call around the coasts of North and South America. These might include Miami, Florida; Recife, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Valparaiso, Chile; and Acapulco, Mexico.

    Cargo Ports

    Cargo ports are important commercial centers where water transportation and land transportation meet. Many goods, such as cars, oil, iron, and steel, are too heavy or unwieldy to be transported across long distances by plane, train, or truck. Trains may transport such goods to a port, where they are loaded onto a ship. Once on the ship, goods travel across the globe.

    Some cargo ships are far too large to operate in a crowded port. Tugboats are small, powerful boats that tug large ships behind them. The tugboat can pull the heavier ship into port with greater ease than the ship could manage on its own. Tugboats are familiar sights at many ports.

    The port of New Orleans, Louisiana, has been one of the busiest cargo ports in the United States for hundreds of years. This port connects the interior of the United States to the rest of the world through the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi moves more than 500 million tons of cargo every year. Thousands of ships dock along the Mississippi in New Orleans. Ships from the United States unload goods such as grain and other agricultural products from the Midwest. Ships from Latin America unload coffee and goods such as rubber. Ships from Asia may bring goods like clothing or barrels of oil.

    Most cargo ports are warm-water ports. Warm-water ports are ports that remain ice-free all year. Even ports where the water is cold, such as New York, New York, or Vancouver, Canada, are warm-water ports. Russia has thousands of miles of coast, and hundreds of ports, along the Arctic Ocean. Almost all of these are cold-water ports. They sometimes remain locked in ice for weeks or even months at a time. Goods cannot be transported in or out of the port when it is blocked by ice. Sailors cannot board or stay in submarines when the vessels are surrounded by ice.

    Passenger Ports

    Some ports, such as the one in Dover, England, chiefly serve passengers. The port at Dover has been used by people for centuries because it provides the shortest sea crossing between England and Europe, at just over 32 kilometers (20 miles).

    Passenger ports have traditionally been centers of communication. Historically, ports brought the latest news, goods, and fashion from overseas. People who live and work around busy ports are often familiar with foreign languages and cultures. The port of New York was the gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants from Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for instance. Italian, Spanish, and Yiddish became familiar languages, while customs from Scandinavia and Russia mixed with Irish traditions.

    Ports can also play host to more dangerous types of communication. The brisk ports of the Mediterranean Sea have been part of trade routes for thousands of years, familiar to sailors and traders from Africa, Asia, and Europe. In the fourteenth century, sailing vessels from the Black Sea landed at the port of Messina, Sicily. Besides cargo like silk from China, rugs from Persia, and spices from Indonesia, the ships carried rats. The disease on these rats, plague, spread quickly throughout all of Europe. At least a quarter of the European population died from a form of the plague called the Black Death.

    This port mostly supports a community fishery.

    Port and Starboard
    Port refers to the left side of a ship, when facing forward; starboard is the right side.

    Port Authority
    A city or region's port authority manages the activity of the region's port. Port authorities work with governments, industries, and the police to help promote the safe economic activity of the port.

    Paddle-to-the-Sea is a 1941 book by Holling C. Holling about a wooden model of a Native American visiting ports, including a sawmill and iron foundry, along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River in Canada and the United States.

    In 2005 the Port of Shanghai, China, became the busiest port in the world. Shanghai includes a port on the Pacific Ocean as well as on the Yangtze River. Each year more than 560 million tons of cargo go through Shanghai's port, and that number is still climbing. Some of the world's other busiest cargo ports include those at Singapore and in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Black Death Noun

    (1345-1400) plague that devastated Europe, killing a quarter of the population.

    brisk Adjective

    busy and quick.

    canoe noun, verb

    small, open boat with pointed ends.

    cargo Noun

    goods carried by a ship, plane, or other vehicle.

    categorize Verb

    to arrange by specific type or characteristic.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    coffee Noun

    plant native to Africa whose dried berries and seeds are used for a drink of the same name.

    cold-water port Noun

    place for ships to stop that is locked in ice for part of the year.

    commercial Adjective

    having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

    communication Noun

    sharing of information and ideas.

    construction equipment Noun

    tools and instruments used for constructing buildings, roads, or other projects.

    crucial Adjective

    very important.

    cruise ship Noun

    vessel transporting tourists on a trip.

    dock Verb

    to bring and secure a ship or boat to a space or facility.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    fish Verb

    to catch or harvest fish.

    gateway Noun


    grain Noun

    harvested seed of such grasses as wheat, oats, and rice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: grain
    Great Lakes Noun

    largest freshwater bodies in the world, located in the United States and Canada. Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior make up the Great Lakes.

    hub Noun


    immigrant Noun

    person who moves to a new country or region.

    iron Noun

    chemical element with the symbol Fe.

    iron foundry Noun

    facility for produciing tools and other material made of iron.

    lake Noun

    body of water surrounded by land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: lake
    Latin America Noun

    South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

    manufacture Verb

    to make or produce a good, usually for sale.

    Midwest Noun

    area of the United States consisting of the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    naval port Noun

    place on a body of water where ships load and unload military personnel and machinery.

    oil Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

    Panama Canal Noun

    artificial waterway between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea through the country of Panama.

    plague Noun

    very infectious, often fatal, disease caused by bacteria.

    port Noun

    place on a body of water where ships can tie up or dock and load and unload cargo.

    Encyclopedic Entry: port
    port authority Noun

    commission or group of people responsible for supporting the safe economic activity of a port.

    port of call Noun

    place on a ship's itinerary or planned voyage.

    port wine Noun

    dark red alcoholic beverage.

    raw material Noun

    matter that needs to be processed into a product to use or sell.

    river Noun

    large stream of flowing fresh water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: river
    rubber Noun

    natural or man-made chemical substance that is tough, elastic and can resist moisture.

    rug Noun

    woven fabric placed over a floor.

    sawmill Noun

    facility for turning raw timber into boards and other lumber material.

    Scandinavia Noun

    region and name for some countries in Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

    silk Noun

    soft, strong fiber spun by some moth larvae, spiders, and other animals.

    spice Noun

    tasty and aromatic plant substances used in cooking.

    starboard Noun

    right side of a ship.

    steel Noun

    metal made of the elements iron and carbon.

    tonnage Noun

    amount of cargo, in tons, carried by a vessel.

    trade route Noun

    path followed by merchants or explorers to exchange goods and services.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    tugboat Noun

    small boat with a strong engine used to push or pull much larger ships.

    unwieldy Adjective

    clumsy or difficult to operate smoothly.

    warm-water port Noun

    place for ships to stop that remains ice-free all year.

    Yiddish Noun

    language and culture of Jewish populations native to Central Europe.