What is the Difference Between Vessel and Ship副本

Difference between Vessel and Ship

Many are times you will find the terminologies vessel and ship used to indiscriminately refer to marine vehicles. Nonetheless, there are times when using either is appropriate and times when you have to be particular.


By definition, a vessel is a term broadly used to refer to any marine craft capable of navigation on water. A vessel can be self-powered or powered by other means e.g. rowing, and encompasses different types and sizes. Common categories of vessels include boats of all sizes, ships and specialized watercraft.

Small boats like motorboats, canoes and kayaks are often utilized recreationally with larger ones like fishing boats and sailboats are multifunctional.

Ships are typically larger vessels designed for significant cargo or passenger transport over long distances e.g. cargo ships and cruise ships. Specialized vessels are purpose built and includes research vessels and military vessels like submarines.

COSCO Shipping Line
COSCO Shipping Line


Generally, a ship is used to describe a large, sea-going vessel usually used for the transportation of goods or passengers. Ships are equipped to handle harsher sea conditions and make long voyages across oceans.

Ideally, ships are comparatively larger than boats with more complex structures and greater capacity for carrying cargo and passengers. Common ships used for commercial transport include cargo ships and oil tankers with cruise ships and ferries used for passenger transport.

Learn more about parts of a ship.

Key Differences between Vessel and Ship

In regular talk, you can get away with using the terms interchangeably. However, when dealing with legal paperwork and registration, distinguishing between the two is ideal.

Scope of Use

All types of marine and water craft are referred to as vessels. On the other hand, a ship is a vessel type referring particularly to larger sea-going craft with significant capacity and function.

Regulatory and Technical Use

In legal mumbo jumbo, the term vessel when used in maritime application refers to all types of marine and water craft. Contrarily, while ships are categorized as vessels, maritime regulations provide specific provisions to qualify one as a ship. This is typically based on size and nature of operations.

Design and Functionality

Vessels encompass a wide range of designs and functions from small dinghies used for recreation to weaponized military submarines. The design of a ship is optimized to handle harsh open sea conditions with specific function of undertaking extensive maritime travel.


Understanding the distinctions between the terms vessel and ship is crucial in maritime contexts especially dealing with legal and regulatory matters. Nonetheless, you can summarily put forward the statement, all ships are vessels but not all vessels are ships.

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