19 Different Types of Ships: From Electric to Cruise Ships

types of ships

19 Different Types of Ships: From Electric to Cruise Ships

For thousands of years, ships have played an important role in human civilization, enabling trade and transportation across vast distances. A ship is a type of watercraft that is propelled through the water by oars, sails, or engines. From small boats to massive vessels, they’re capable of carrying thousands of people or tons of cargo, depending on their size, shape, and purpose.

The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the various types of ships, their history, features, and applications, as well as their benefits and drawbacks. We will provide insight into the world of ships and their importance in global commerce and transportation, whether you are interested in the practical aspects of shipping or the engineering marvels of modern cruise ships.

Cargo Ships

Cargo ships have a long history that dates back to when goods were transported by sea. These ships are built to transport a wide range of goods, including raw materials and finished goods.

Modern cargo ships are outfitted with cutting-edge technology to improve efficiency and safety. They have a large cargo capacity and are capable of transporting a wide range of goods, including bulk and break-bulk cargo.

The ability of cargo ships to transport large quantities of goods over long distances makes them an important part of the global supply chain.


These ships are vulnerable to piracy and other security threats, and because they use fossil fuels, they can have a significant environmental impact.


Examples of cargo ships include the MSC Oscar, which has a capacity of over 19,000 TEU, and the Seawise Giant, one of the largest cargo ships ever built. Cargo ships are vital to the global economy, transporting goods across the oceans and facilitating international trade and commerce.

Container Ships

types of ships
Container ship capacity is measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).

Malcolm McLean, a trucking magnate who standardized shipping containers, invented container ships in the 1950s. These ships can transport a large amount of cargo, and the containers can be easily loaded and unloaded.

They are a cost-effective and environmentally friendly mode of transportation. They are, however, vulnerable to theft and piracy and may not be appropriate for irregularly shaped cargo. The Emma Maersk and MSC Gülsün, for example, have capacities of over 23,000 TEU. Container ships are vital to global trade and transportation.


types of ships
Major types of tankers include the oil tanker, the chemical tanker, and the gas carrier.

Tankers were first used to transport oil in the late 1800s and have since become indispensable to the global oil industry. These types of ships are built to transport liquid cargo such as oil, chemicals, and liquefied natural gas.

Modern tankers are outfitted with cutting-edge technology to increase their efficiency and safety. They are classified according to their size and cargo type, with some of the largest tankers carrying more than 300,000 tons of cargo.

Pros and Cons

Tankers’ main advantage is their ability to transport large amounts of liquid cargo over long distances, making them an essential component of the global energy industry.

In the event of an accident or spill, tankers pose environmental risks, and their large size and cargo capacity make them vulnerable to piracy and other security threats.


The Seawise Giant (converted to a tanker after being a cargo ship), one of the largest ships ever built, and the LNG carrier Q-Max, which can carry over 260,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas, are two examples of tankers.

Tankers are vital to the global energy industry, transporting oil and other forms of liquid cargo across oceans, and facilitating international trade.

Cruise Ships

types of ships
Cruise ships usually embark on round-trip voyages to various ports of call.

The history of cruise ships dates back to the early 20th century when ocean liners were first used for pleasure cruises. Today’s cruise ships are massive, luxurious vessels designed to give passengers an unforgettable vacation experience.

Cruise ships are known for their numerous restaurants, bars, theaters, swimming pools, and even water parks. They also usually provide a variety of activities and entertainment options, such as live music and comedy shows, as well as sports and fitness facilities. In March 2022, the world’s largest electric cruise ship, the Yangtze River Three Gorges 1, set sail in China.

Pros and Cons

The primary benefit of cruise ships is the ability to visit multiple destinations on a single trip, with many ships offering itineraries that include stops at multiple ports of call. They also offer a variety of activities and entertainment options, making them an ideal vacation destination for families, couples, and groups of friends.

Cruise ships can also be expensive, with some of the larger, more luxurious ships charging thousands of dollars per person for a single voyage. They can also be crowded, and some people prefer a more intimate or personalized vacation experience.


Popular cruise ships include the Oasis of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas, two of the world’s largest cruise ships, as well as the Queen Mary 2, which provides a more traditional ocean liner experience. Overall, cruise ships provide an exciting and unique way to explore the world’s oceans while also experiencing luxury travel.


types of ships
Ferries form a part of the public transport systems of many waterside cities and islands.

For centuries, ferries have transported people and goods across bodies of water. They are specifically designed to transport people, vehicles, and cargo. Ferries range in size from small boats to large vessels capable of carrying thousands of passengers.

They are also widely used for public transportation and tourism. However, their reliance on weather conditions and the possibility of long wait times can be disadvantageous. The Staten Island Ferry in New York City, Sydney Ferries in Australia, and CalMac Ferries in Scotland are all popular ferries.

Naval Ships

types of ships
Typically, naval ships are damage resilient and armed with weapon systems.

Since ancient times, naval ships have played an important role in warfare. They range in size and shape from small patrol boats to massive aircraft carriers. Weapon systems, radar, and sonar are among the features designed for combat.

The ability to project military power and protect shipping lanes are among their benefits. The disadvantages include high costs and environmental impact. Destroyers, frigates, and cruisers are examples of naval ships.

Fishing vessels

types of ships
Before the 1950s, there was little standardization of fishing boats, and their designs could vary wildly.

For centuries, fishing vessels have been used to catch fish in the sea. They have evolved over time in response to changing fishing industry demands. Modern fishing boats can be quite large, with sophisticated technology for locating and catching fish.

They can be outfitted with a variety of fishing equipment such as nets, lines, traps, and dredges. Fishing vessels have advantages such as providing food and employment, but they can also contribute to overfishing and environmental damage. Trawlers, longliners, and purse seiners are some examples of different types of fishing vessels.


types of ships
Early tugboats were powered by steam engines, which were later replaced by diesel engines.

Tugboats have been used to tow other vessels or objects since the 1800s. They have a strong engine, a well-built body, and a pointed bow. Tugboats come in a variety of sizes and can operate in a variety of water conditions.

Tugboats’ advantages include their ability to assist larger vessels, as well as their maneuverability. On the other hand, they can be expensive to maintain and may necessitate the use of a trained crew. The Foss Maritime fleet and the Svitzer fleet are two examples of tugboats.


types of ships
Barges don’t have their own means of mechanical propulsion.

These have existed for centuries and were once propelled by humans or animals. Most barges are now pushed or pulled by tugboats. They are flat-bottomed boats that transport commodities such as coal, grain, and oil.

Barges range in size from single-section vessels to massive fleets of linked barges known as “tows.” They are inexpensive and environmentally friendly, but they are slow and take up a lot of space. Container barges and oil tank barges are a few examples.


types of ships
A submarine is capable of independent operation underwater.

Submarines are underwater watercraft that have a long history dating back to the 1600s. They are primarily used for military purposes such as reconnaissance and strategic warfare. Submarines are outfitted with cutting-edge technology, such as sonar and advanced communication systems.

While they have advantages in terms of stealth and underwater mobility, they also have drawbacks, such as limited air supply and the possibility of dangerous accidents. Submarines such as the United States Navy’s Virginia-class submarine and Russia’s Akula-class submarine are two examples.

Research Vessels

types of ships
Research vessels may be constructed around an icebreaker hull, which allows them to operate in polar waters.

A research vessel is a ship that is used to conduct scientific research at sea. The HMS Challenger was the first research vessel, embarking on a scientific expedition in 1872. Research vessels have been used since then to explore the oceans and study marine life and ecosystems.

For data collection, research vessels are outfitted with specialized equipment, such as sonars, sensors, and cameras. They also have laboratories, workshops, and living quarters for the research team.

Pros and Cons 

Researchers can study marine life and ecosystems on research vessels, which helps us better understand the ocean. They are, however, costly to operate and maintain.


The RV Atlantis, RV Sikuliaq, and RV Falkor are examples of research vessels.


types of ships
Icebreakers have a specially designed hull to direct broken ice around or under the vessel.

These are specialized ships that travel through ice-covered waters, keeping shipping lanes open and allowing other vessels to pass. The first icebreaker ship was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century, and it has since played an important role in the transportation of goods in colder regions.

These types of ships have a reinforced hull, powerful engines, and a specially designed bow to help them break through the ice. Some of the largest icebreakers can cut through 10 feet of ice.

Pros and Cons

Icebreakers are critical for maintaining shipping routes in the Arctic and the Antarctic, but they are costly to build and maintain. They also necessitate the use of highly skilled crew members.


Icebreaker ships include the USCGC Polar Star, the Russian icebreaker Arktika, and the Finnish icebreaker Otso.


types of ships
The word “yacht” originates from the Dutch word “jacht” (meaning “hunt”), and is tied to fast sailing vessels that used to pursue pirates.

Yachts are luxury vessels used for recreational purposes and private travel. These types of ships began in the 16th century in the Netherlands as small, fast sailing ships used to pursue pirates. They evolved into luxury vessels for the wealthy over time.

These types of ships are famous for their luxurious amenities, which can include multiple decks, swimming pools, hot tubs, bars, and even helipads. They are frequently operated by a professional crew. Also, many electric yachts are starting to enter the market.

Pros and Cons

Yachts provide the ultimate luxury and privacy, but they can be very costly to own and operate. They also necessitate a lot of upkeep and can be difficult to navigate in bad weather.


The 533-foot Eclipse, owned by Roman Abramovich, and the 454-foot Azzam, owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi, are two of the most famous yachts.


types of ships
Catamarans were invented by the Austronesian peoples.

These are double-hulled boats that have become increasingly popular in recent years. These ships have a long history, dating back to ancient Polynesia, where they were used for fishing and transportation.

Modern catamarans have roomy interiors, a smooth ride, and shallow drafts. They are popular for recreational and commercial purposes such as ferry services and yacht charters.

These types of ships are economical to operate and have plenty of deck space. Their wide beam, on the other hand, can make them difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Ships such as the Lagoon 450F and the Sunreef 80 are examples.


Trimarans are multi-hulled vessels with three hulls, the largest of which is in the center. They were originally used for racing, but in recent years have also been used for cruising and other recreational activities. The Englishman William Petty built the first trimaran in 1661, and the design has evolved over the centuries.


Trimarans are known for their maneuverability, speed, and stability. When compared to traditional mono-hull boats, their unique design allows for a smoother ride and increased efficiency. The central hull has plenty of room for living and storage, while the two smaller hulls on either side add stability.

Pros and Cons

Trimarans have the advantage of being up to twice as fast as a monohull boat. They are also more stable in choppy waters and can withstand a wide range of weather conditions. They are, however, more expensive to build and maintain than other types of boats, and their wide beam makes them difficult to maneuver in tight spaces.


Trimaran models that are popular include the Corsair 37, Neel 45, and Dragonfly 28. Trimarans are commonly used for racing, but they are also increasingly popular for cruising and chartering.


The first known sailboat design can be traced back to ancient Egypt. This is one of the oldest types of ships. Sailboat technology has evolved and improved over time. Sailboats range in size from small dinghies to large yachts with multiple sails.

A keel or centerboard to prevent sideways drift, a mast and rigging to support the sails, and a tiller or wheel to steer are all features of sailboats.

Pros and Cons

Sailboats are environmentally friendly and quiet, and provide a sense of freedom and adventure. They are, however, weather-dependent and can be difficult to maneuver in high winds.


Sailboats include popular J-class yachts, classic schooners, and the agile Optimist dinghy.


types of ships
The first practical design for hovercraft was derived from a British invention in the 1950s.

Hovercraft are an exciting way to travel on water and land due to their unique mode of propulsion. In the 1950s, Sir Christopher Cockerell invented hovercraft. Since then, they’ve been used for everything from military operations to rescue missions to transportation.

Hovercraft glide over the surface of the water or any other flat surface using an air cushion. Fans propel them by creating an air cushion beneath the craft, allowing it to move forward.

Pros and Cons

Hovercraft are versatile because they can travel over land, water, ice, and swampy areas with ease. They are, however, frequently noisy and require a flat surface to operate, limiting their use in some environments.


Hovercraft have been used by the British military for many years, and they are also commonly used for rescue operations and tourist excursions around the world.

Amphibious Ships

types of ships
Modern amphibious ships support landing craft.

Amphibious ships are vessels that are designed for amphibious warfare and transport. They can transport troops and equipment from the sea to the land and vice versa.

Amphibious ships first appeared during World War II, when military planners recognized the need for a specialized ship capable of supporting amphibious landings. With the development of new technologies and materials, these ships evolved over time to become more sophisticated and capable.

Amphibious ships have a flat bottom and a bow ramp, allowing them to beach and unload troops and equipment onto land. They frequently have a well deck, which is a flooded compartment in the ship’s stern that can be drained to launch amphibious vehicles like landing craft.

Pros and Cons

Amphibious ships are extremely versatile and capable of performing a wide range of missions, ranging from disaster relief to combat operations. They are, however, often costly to build and maintain, and they require a skilled crew to operate effectively.


The U.S. Navy employs a variety of these types of ships, including Wasp-class and America-class amphibious assault ships, as well as San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships. Other countries, such as France and China, have amphibious ships of their own.

Personal Watercraft 

Personal watercraft, or PWCs, are small, powerful vessels designed for recreational water use. The first PWC was introduced by Kawasaki in 1972, and since then, they have become increasingly popular. PWCs are typically jet-powered and can accommodate one to three passengers. They are small, agile, and capable of reaching high speeds quickly.

Pros and Cons

PWCs are excellent for thrill seekers and can provide an exhilarating experience on the water. However, if not used properly, they can be dangerous, and their noise and emissions can be harmful to the environment.


Yamaha, Sea-Doo, and Kawasaki are some popular PWC brands. They are available in a variety of configurations, ranging from stand-up to sit-down, and can be used for activities such as racing, touring, and wakeboarding.


It is critical to understand the various types of ships because they serve different purposes and have unique capabilities. Understanding them can assist you in selecting the best ship for your needs, whether they are personal or commercial.

The future of ships is exciting as new technologies emerge, such as electric and autonomous ships, which can reduce emissions and increase efficiency. However, it’s important to balance innovation with sustainability and safety to ensure that ships continue to be reliable and sustainable modes of transportation for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is big ship called?

Depending on its purpose and design, a large ship can be referred to by a variety of names, including tanker, cargo ship, container ship, cruise ship, or simply a large vessel.

What is a luxury ship called?

A luxury ship is also known as a “luxury liner” or a “luxury cruise ship.”

What is an old ship called?

An old ship is also known as an “antique ship,” a “vintage ship,” a “historic ship,” or simply an “old vessel.”

What are the 7 kinds of cargo vessels?

The seven main types of cargo vessels are:

  • Bulk carriers
  • Container ships
  • Tankers
  • General cargo ships
  • Ro-Ro ships (roll-on/roll-off)
  • Heavy-lift ships
  • Reefer ships (refrigerated cargo vessels)

What is a small ship called?

Depending on its design and purpose, a small ship may be referred to as a “boat,” “dinghy,” “yacht,” “canoe,” “kayak,” “catamaran,” or “pontoon boat.”

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