Water transport: Types, Advantages and Disadvantages

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What is water transport?

Water transport is defined as the process of moving people, freight and mails by barge, boat, ship, or sailboat over a sea, ocean, lake, canal, and river or by other types of water transportation. It is an important mode of transport.

Water transportation is the cheapest means of transporting bulky and perishable goods over long distances. This mode of transportation is primarily used for the carriage of people, perishable and-perishable goods which are generally referred to as cargo.

Water transportation vehicles

Water vehicles are suitable for long-distance travel, commuting, cruising, racing, and off-road riding. There are numerous examples of water vehicles which are mentioned below.

Examples of Water transport vehicles

  • Motorboat
  • Cargo ship
  • Speedboat
  • Sailboat
  • Yacht
  • Ferry
  • Canoe
  • Raft boat
  • Battleship
  • Cruise ship
  • Jetski
  • Windsurfer
  • Riverboat
  • Submarine
  • Tug boat

History of Water Transportation

Water transport can be undertaken either along inland rivers and canals or across oceans. This distinction is pertinent since the two types have different backgrounds and vary in importance. Rivers, if naturally navigable, have always been used for transport for many years ago, but only during the last two hundred years have canals been specially constructed on a large scale (although both Egypt and China do have canals dating back more than 2000 years).

Britain pioneered inland water transport but now has little use for it, owing amongst other factors to the narrowness and shortness of her canals.

Up to the middle of the last century, ocean transport was almost entirely dependent upon sailing craft, and journeys were consequently slow and laborious. Ships too were unsophisticated and could be divided merely into two groups: warship and merchantmen.

Much has changed since then. Coal powered, subsequently, oil-powered vessels were introduced and ships became more specialized in function. Apart from liners (for passengers), merchant shipping now comprises cargo-liners including containers ships, (bulk ore carriers), tramps, coastal craft, and tankers.

Sizes too have increased especially for oil tankers which today carry as much as 500,000 tones dead weight.

Types of Water Transport

There are two major types of water transportation.

  1. Inland water transport
  2. Ocean water transport

Inland Water Transport

The inland water transport is the system of transport through all navigable rivers, lakes, and man-made canals. Many large rivers in different parts of the world are used by ships and barges for transportation.

The main rivers where inland water transport is important are the Rhine and Dambe in Europe, the Zaire in Africa, the Nile in Africa, the Lower Niger in Nigeria. Others include St Lawrence in Canada and the Mississippi in the USA etc.

Canals are mostly built to link up two navigable Seas or Oceans. For instance, the Suez Canal which links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and the Panama Canal which links the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean.

Ocean Water Transport

The Ocean waterways carry a lot of the world’s trade, the majority of the bulky goods, materials, and passengers pass through ocean waterways from one country to another at the cheapest cost. Various forms of vessels sail in the high seas.

Examples of vessels sailing in the high seas

  1. The passenger Liners: these vessels carry mainly passengers, mails, and highly valued goods. However, these types of vessels operate on scheduled routes.
  2. Cargo Liner: these vessels combined freight with passengers; they also keep to scheduled routes like the passenger liners. Cargo liners are well suited for the transportation of perishable goods because of the provision of inbuilt refrigerators in most of them.
  3. Tramps: they are other kinds of vessels used in high areas that are dependent cargo boats that have no scheduled time and place. These vessels only sail when they have enough cargo to carry. Tramps are only designed for carrying goods.
  4. Oil Tankers and refrigerated Ships: these vessels are only designed for carrying oil and perishable goods such as fish, meat, dairy products, and wines.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Water Transport

Water transportation has benefits and challenges. Each kind of water transportation has its importance and demerits.

Advantages of Water transport

  1. It involves a low running cost which makes it the cheapest form of transport system over long distances.
  2. Large vessels especially run economically since fuel costs can be spread over greater quantities. Distance does not add greatly to total transport costs.
  3. It has the capacity of conveying heavy and bulky cargoes.
  4. Water transport has a natural route network that is free to use. This allows flexibility of service, frequency of movement, and little congestion (except where water channels are narrow (as in the case of the Straits of Dover).
  5. Canals provide good access along their line sides and also encourage the development of industry and commerce. Some towns have grown largely through their connection with canals. For instance, Stour port.
  6. It causes relatively little environmental pollution, but sometimes oil discharge from tankers seems to be the major problem to this mode of transportation.

Disadvantages of Water Transport

  1. This mode of transportation is very slow compared to road transport hence; it is unsuitable for perishable goods and urgent cargoes.
  2. There may be delays at locks and docks, while navigation may be impeded majorly due to poor weather conditions.
  3. It is unsuitable for short distance journeys since transshipment is both costly and time-consuming.
  4. Canals are costly to build, maintain, and dredge, and also follows inflexible and circuitous routes. An adequate supply of water may be difficult to obtain and the limited dimensions of barges may be too small for modern requirements.
  5. As ships increase, the number of ports capable of receiving oceans carrying vessels is declining; this results in less flexible routes and services for the movement of such commodities as oil. Super-tankers, for instance, cannot use Suez Canal and large ships can no longer enter the smallest port except the modern ones which are very few.