PORT 101: Port Definitions, Terms and their meanings

The PortWay Nigeria is your one stop online learning platform for all matters related to Ports and Seaports.

Today, we will be sharing some basic port information you need to know if you. This article is for informational purposes and will be of great value to both people who do port business and those who do not.


This word “Port” is derived from the Latin word “portus”, meaning “haven” or “harbour.”

It is a place of safe arrival. A place where ships may ride secure from storms. A harbour town or city where ships may take on or discharge cargo.

Below are various dictionary definitions for the word ‘port:

An area of water and the land and buildings surrounding it, where ships can take on and off goods and passengers. — Cambridge English Dictionary

A town or city with a harbour, especially one where ships load and unload goods. — Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary

A town or city with a harbour or access to navigable water where ships load and unload. — Lexico by Oxford

A place where ships may ride secure from storms. A Barbour town or city wheee ships may take on or discharge cargo. — Merriam Webster Dictionary

A port is a town by the sea or on a river which has a harbour. — Collins English Dictionary

A port is a harbour or place on the water where ships load and unload cargo. — Your Dictionary

A harbour, place, town or maritime facility on a waterway for receiving ships loaded with cargo and transferring cargo. — The PortWay Nigeria

Ports are one of the most important strategic points of a country’s economy, because much of a country’s production is usually shipped through them.

Ports are usually situated at the edge of an ocean, sea, river, or lake. They often have cargo- handling equipment such as cranes (operated by longshoremen or docker) and forklifts for use in loading/unloading of ships, which in most cases are provided by private bodies.

A very important point to note is that ports which handle international traffic have customs facilities in them. In this case, those are referred to as “Port of Entry”. Ocean-going vessels are handled at “ports” and “seaports”.

Now we know the definition or meaning of ‘Port’ let’s take a look at the basic terms associated with it.

Basic Terms

Port Authority: A government commissioned agency responsible for managing a port’s trade and transportation infrastructure, such as harbours and airports.

Example in Nigeria is Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) responsible for all seaports in Nigeria.

Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) responsible for all airports in Nigeria.

Harbour: An area of the sea at the coast which is partly enclosed by land or strong walls, so that boats can be left there safely.

Harbour Master: An official in charge of a harbour. Harbour Master supervises operations in a harbor area and administers its rules.

Haven: A port, harbour or other sheltered place for shipping.

Wharf: A structure built along or at an angle from the shore of navigable waters so that ships may lie alongside to receive and discharge cargo and passengers.

Berth: A ship’s allotted place at a wharf or dock.

Quay: A stone or metal platform lying alongside or projecting into water for loading and unloading ships.

Pier: A platform sticking out into water, usually the sea, which people walk along or use when getting onto or off boats or ships.

Jetty: A wide stone wall or wooden platform where boats stop to let people get on or off, or to load or unload goods.

Dock: An enclosed area in a harbour where ships go to be loaded, unloaded, and repaired.

Mole: A structure, usually massive, on the seaward side of a harbour for its protection against current and wave action, drift ice, sanding up, wind etc.

Breakwater: A wooden or stone wall that extends from the shore into the sea and is built in order to protect a harbour or beach from the force of the waves

Basin: A wet-dock provided with flood-gates for restraining the water, in which shipping may be kept afloat in all times of tide.

Terminal: A location on a seaport where loading and unloading of people or goods take place. A seaport can have multiple terminals where goods can be loaded and unloaded.

Port areas: Land and water surface areas of a port.

Port facilities: A specific location in a port where passengers or commodities are transferred between land and water carriers or between two water carriers, including wharves, piers, sheds, warehouses, yards, and docks.

Maritime administration: A government body or agency responsible for regulations related to Nigerian shipping, maritime labor and coastal waters. The agency also undertakes inspections and provides search and rescue services. Example in Nigeria is The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), formerly known as the National Maritime Authority (NMA).

Port dues: Charges levied against a shipowner or ship operator by a port authority for the use of a port.

Inland port: Ports on a lake, river, or canal which have access to a sea or ocean.

Dry port: A term sometimes used to describe a yard used to place containers or conventional bulk cargo, usually connected to a seaport by rail or road.

Port of Call: This is an intermediate stop, for example to collect supplies or fuel.


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