Ship size categories for different ship types

Hello friends,

I am a bit confused about the vessel size categories. It seems that tankers, container ships and bulk carriers each have their own size classification system and they are based on different dimensions like DWT, length, etc. Could someone please clarify how these work? And what is the rationale behind different classification systems?

Thank you.

You are correct that different types of ships, such as tankers, container ships, and bulk carriers, have their own size classification systems. These systems are often based on various dimensions like deadweight tonnage (DWT), length, and beam (width) of the vessel. The classification systems have been developed to help standardize and categorize ships for various purposes like navigation, port infrastructure, and regulatory requirements. Here’s a brief overview of the classification systems for these types of ships:

  1. Tankers: Tankers are primarily classified based on their deadweight tonnage (DWT), which is the total weight that a ship can carry, including cargo, fuel, crew, and provisions. The main tanker size categories are as follows:
  • General Purpose/Handysize: 10,000 to 50,000 DWT
  • Panamax: 50,000 to 80,000 DWT
  • Aframax: 80,000 to 120,000 DWT
  • Suezmax: 120,000 to 200,000 DWT
  • Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC): 200,000 to 320,000 DWT
  • Ultra Large Crude Carrier (ULCC): 320,000 DWT and above
  1. Container Ships: Container ships are classified based on their size, measured in Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU), which is the standard unit to measure a ship’s cargo-carrying capacity. The main container ship size categories are:
  • Feeder: Up to 1,000 TEU
  • Feedermax: 1,000 to 3,000 TEU
  • Panamax: 3,000 to 5,100 TEU
  • Post-Panamax: 5,100 to 10,000 TEU
  • New Panamax: 10,000 to 14,500 TEU
  • Ultra Large Container Vessel (ULCV): 14,500 TEU and above
  1. Bulk Carriers: Bulk carriers transport unpackaged bulk cargo, like coal, grain, and iron ore. They are primarily classified based on their deadweight tonnage (DWT) as follows:
  • Handysize: 10,000 to 35,000 DWT
  • Handymax/Supramax: 35,000 to 59,000 DWT
  • Panamax: 60,000 to 80,000 DWT
  • Capesize: 80,000 DWT and above

The rationale behind having different classification systems is based on the unique operational, infrastructure, and regulatory requirements of each type of ship. For example, tankers and bulk carriers are heavily dependent on the weight of their cargo, so their classification systems are based on DWT. Container ships, on the other hand, are more focused on the number of containers they can carry, so their classification is based on TEU.

Additionally, these classification systems often take into account the size limitations of specific waterways, like the Panama Canal or Suez Canal, to help shipowners and operators make informed decisions about which vessels to use for specific routes, and to ensure compatibility with port infrastructure and equipment.


Hi there, @aydin-mammadov and @ali-gara !
Great explanation, @ali-gara . I’d like to add that these classification systems have evolved over time to adapt to changes in the shipping industry and global trade patterns. Different ship sizes have their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on factors like cargo type, trade routes, and port facilities.

For instance, smaller ships like Handysize or Feeder vessels have the flexibility to access smaller ports and navigate through narrower waterways. This makes them suitable for short sea shipping or regional trade. On the other hand, larger ships like VLCCs, ULCCs, or ULCVs benefit from economies of scale, allowing them to transport huge volumes of cargo at a lower cost per unit. However, their size also limits their accessibility to certain ports and canals.

In addition to the standard size categories, there are also specialized vessels designed for specific types of cargo or trade routes. Examples include LNG carriers for transporting liquefied natural gas, Ro-Ro ships for carrying vehicles, and Heavy Lift Vessels for moving oversized or heavy cargo.

Understanding these different size categories and the rationale behind them can be quite helpful for those involved in the maritime industry, as it allows them to make informed decisions when planning shipping operations, investing in new vessels, or expanding port facilities.





Bulk Carriers: