Common shipping terms

If you're interested in shipping law but don't know your allisions from your collisions, fear not! Here's a list of some of the most common shipping terms bandied about.


Actual total loss – when an insured property has been completely destroyed or damaged beyond recovery or repair

Allision – when a ship runs into a fixed object or another ship that's stationary

Amiables compositeurs – clauses contained in arbitration agreements that enable arbitrators to determine the outcome of a dispute based on the legal principles they deem to be right, free from the constraints of any specific national law

Anton Piller order – a court order requiring the defendant to allow the person who brought forward the case (or their legal representatives) to enter the defendant's premises with a view to obtaining evidence

Arrest – when a ship, as well as cargo and/or freight, are seized by an admiralty court to provide security for a maritime claim before a judgement is handed out

Bail – when a defendant provides personal security (known as a bail bond) to the court to prevent a ship being arrested or to ensure its release from arrest

Bill of lading – a list detailing a ship's cargo given to the person delivering the goods

Charter party – a contractual agreement between a shipowner and a trader used for the hire of a ship and the delivery of cargo

Collision – when two or more vessels are involved in an accident that results in loss or damage, regardless of whether or not any contact has occurred

Container ship – a ship designed to carry goods stored in containers

Cost and freight (CFR) – a trade term that requires a seller to arrange for goods to be carried by sea to a port of destination, and supply the buyer with all the paperwork needed to retrieve the goods from the carrier

Coasting trade – trade that's handed over between neighbouring ports of the same country over water

Dead freight – a charge required of contractors who charter space in a ship but don't occupy it fully

Demurrage – a charge incurred if laytime (see below) is exceeded

Disponent owner – a person, typically a bareboat or time charterer, who has the right to control a ship's operations despite not being its registered owner

Dock receipt – a receipt issued by a shipping company for cargo delivered at the pier and later handed in for a bill of lading

Dominant mind – a test a judge uses to determine whether a contract is controlled by the tow (meaning it's 'of' services) or the tug (making it 'for' services)

Dry shipping – an area of shipping law that covers contentious contractual issues, including bill of lading disputes, cargo claims, the arrest of vessels and charter party disputes

Dunnage – packing material used to protect a ship's cargo from shifting around or suffering damage during a voyage

Free alongside ship (FAS) – means the seller is liable for the cost of transporting and delivering goods alongside a vessel that's situated in a port belonging to their country

FC&S (free of capture or seizure) clause – a clause found in many marine insurance policies that excludes claims concerning losses due to hostilities and war-like acts (namely rebellion, mutiny and civil conflict)

FIO (free in and out) – a term commonly found in a charter party that means the charterer commands and pays for the loading and discharge of the cargo

Flotilla principle – a point now ignored in most jurisdictions which argues that liability caps should be based on the combined tonnage of the tow and the ships being towed

Flotsam, jetsam, ligan and wreck – four categories of salvaged property: flotsam refers to items found floating after a ship's demise; jetsam refers to items thrown overboard to lessen the weight of a ship; ligan (or lagan) describes items chucked overboard with a buoy to mark they're located; wreck refers to an abandoned vessel or part of one that's stranded, grounded or still afloat

Free pratique – permission granted to a ship to access a port after it's been deemed free of disease by health authorities

Freight – goods that are transported in bulk by ship (or by truck, train or aircraft, though those don't apply to shipping law)

Freight forwarder – a person or company responsible for arranging shipments for individuals or corporations with the aim of transporting the goods from the manufacturer or producer to their intended destination

Lay – an employment contract for commercial fisherman that sees them paid either a share or percentage of the profits made from a catch

Laytime – the amount of time allowed for the loading and unloading of cargo

Liner – a vessel routinely employed on a regular schedule and loads and discharges cargo and/or passengers at designated ports

Load lines (aka Plimsoll lines– markings on the side of a ship that signify the maximum depth to which cargo can be safely loaded onto it

Log – a book used by a ship's officers to keep a record of noteworthy events that occur during a journey

Maintenance and cure – a shipowner's obligation to pay for an injured ship member's medical treatment until they've fully recovered, and to provide basic living expenses until the voyage has been completed, regardless of whether or not that ship member is still on board

Maritime law (aka admiralty law– refers to the laws and regulations, including international agreements and treaties, in place to govern affairs at sea and other navigable waters

Maritime lien – a privileged claim allowing for the seizure of a ship and/or its cargo until full payment has been administered to the claimant

Nautical assessor – a court-appointed expert who provides professional opinions on nautical matters surrounding a case Nautical mile – a unit, equating to 1,852 metres, used to measure distances at sea

Perils of the sea – accidents or casualties particular to the sea, including dangerous storms, unsafe waves or winds, collisions, and fires

Salvage – the act of rescuing a wrecked or disabled ship or its cargo after it's been lost at sea

Seaworthiness – a fundamental obligation for shipowners to source a vessel and crew fit to handle any perils that may arise at sea

Ship mortgage – an interest in a ship a shipowner provides a lender or mortgagee as security for a loan

Sister ship arrest – when a ship that isn't the subject of a claim but is owned by the defending party is arrested as security for said claim

Tonnage contract – a contract for the carriage of a specific quantity of goods; outlines the total measurement of goods (usually in tons), the period of time for the voyage to be completed, and the method of transportation

Total loss – an insurer's conclusion that the lost value or repair cost of a damaged vessel would exceed the value of its market value

Towage – a contract that outlines the act of one ship moving another

Wet shipping – an area of shipping law covering contentious issues occurring at sea, such as collisions, salvages, pollution and ship fires