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Geofencing Ports, Terminals and Berths - What is port data ?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Ports play a vital role in global trade. They handle over 80% of global merchandise trade in volume and more than two thirds of its value and act as key nodes in the global transport chains that provide access to markets, support supply chains, and link consumers and producers.

Port data ranges from the location and layout of ports, terminals and berths to the pre-arrival documentation necessary to make a call.

The application of port data is varied. For example, ship owners and operators require detailed information on restrictions, arrangements and facilities for safe and orderly transit whereas as commodity traders and analytics providers alike have figured out ways to estimate real time cargo flows from ascertaining which commodities are handled are what terminals.

While there doesn’t appear to be a definitive idea on the number of commercial ports in the world,

Port databases range from:

4,000 > 12,000+ ports

15,000+ terminals

15,000 > 40,000 berths

Image by bearfotos on Freepik

What is Port data?

Port data can be broken down into the following:

Geo-referencing of ports, terminals, and berths

The core dataset for ports is their geofenced locations. This data can be used to generate port/terminal/berth calls – a fundamental dataset to understand voyages and the overall makeup, size, capacity, and layout of the port.

Port Details:

A broad range of data containing everything from telephone numbers, yard sizes, opening hours and land-based transport infrastructure.

Port authorities port service providers:

Information on who runs the port, available services including bunkering, ship supply, security, salvage, towage, agents and local authorities. This information can contain contact names, addresses and phone numbers.

Pre-arrival details

A breakdown of the local regulatory information including required documents, flags, immigration and custom checks, standard messages required.

Port plans

Information on the layout of the port, photographs, mooring diagrams, and other guidance for captains to ensure they have a total understanding of the port they’re entering.

How can I use it? 

At the very highest level, this information is used to generate port calls, which are the cornerstone of understanding voyages.

Alongside this, there are several other applications of this data, broadly split into three categories:

Risk Management:

Understanding the full layout, required processes and available resources when selecting a port to call at, or in the process of calling at it allows owners/operators to minimise the risk of casualty or delay.

Additionally, this helps prevent the risk of incurring additional demurrage costs (rental of port space due to any unforeseen delays) – a significant cost for many organisations. It’s also worth noting the ‘last mile problem’ a phenomenon which details that the with almost any delivery, the risk of issue/delay is typically at its greatest at the end of the journey, as there are more variables at play. Having access to more information about these variables will help mitigate this as much as possible.

Cargo tracking:

An important component of any cargo mover is understanding what similar cargo is arriving at ports around the world. This can be used by traders/charterers and many more to understand supply/demand.

A simple example would be that if an ethanol tanker has arrived into a port with a low draught, and left with a high one, this implies that it’s dropped off a significant quantity of ethanol, which will have a price impact. Additionally, there may now be an opportunity for a charterer to hire this now empty Ethanol Tanker should they need one.

The more advanced the port information the greater the insight, if a dry-bulk carrier pulled up to a berth known to only be used for grain, that provides an advantage to those who have that information, rather than those who know only that it’s a dry-bulk vessel without additional context.

Vessel efficiency:

Margins in shipping are small, so where cost savings can be made it is imperative that they are. Understanding where is best to stock up on parts/food/equipment or bunker and building these ports into a vessels voyage plans will significantly contribute to that efficiency. Particularly for spot-charter vessels, which may be entering unfamiliar ports or countries.

How do I access the data? 


Given the importance of port data for generating port calls, many of the established vessel tracking platforms will have sophisticated port databases. Depending on the investment into the research of these ports, the quality will vary. These platforms are web applications or in some instances can be integrated with the bridge controls of a vessel to even further support the understanding for the captain.

Data feeds:  

In addition to the above, many suppliers will provide these datasets as a direct delivery via API or FTP(S3 or equivalent). The benefits generally remain the same as the platform delivery, but data delivery enables the ingestion and presentation within a buyers own systems.

Often this is taken as a single flat file delivery of the port database (or a segment of it) followed by periodic deliverables to improve/enhance/update.

How to assess one supplier vs another?

Coverage is a vital metric here; the number of ports/terminals/berths is a key indicator of the data. The same is true for the port and services information, the quantity and quality of this information is key and can be determined in a sample or demonstration with a few simple spot checks.

In addition to this, the update frequency should be understood. Many of the suppliers will update this information periodically (Quarterly, annually etc). Out of date information can make a significant difference to this dataset, so worthwhile ensuring this period is understood and factored into any decision-making process.

Is there a cost to use the data? 

Yes. This data is extremely time consuming to create, often done by manually overlaying polygons onto satellite images and maps.

It is undoubtedly cheaper to purchase a part of a platform deliverable, however this may inhibit the use.

The data is typically more expensive if purchased as a data delivery, however this allows organisations to implement it into their own systems, raising the applicability to specific workflows significantly.


Considering the vital role that ports play in facilitating over 80% of global trade (by volume), port data is an incredibly important input to a wide range of use cases.

Databases vary both in size, granularity and accuracy. While one supplier may have a broader coverage of ports, they may only provide their longitude and latitude rather than a geofenced breakdown of its terminals and berths, which may be crucial in building a view on cargo flows.

We hope this article has been helpful in understanding what port data is, where it comes from, how it's used and how to access it.

For more information on port data and other maritime data and applications, reach out for free support.


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