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Vessel Characteristics and Particulars - What is Vessel Data?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Vessel data is the specifications and/or characteristics of a ship, including its size, type, weight and a range of other data points (explained below) necessary to form a detailed understanding of a vessel or fleet of interest.

While the exact number of ships in operation is somewhat undetermined (different suppliers take different views) the global merchant fleet is estimated to be around 50,000 – 65,000 (with a merchant vessel defined as one that is trading, carrying either cargo or passengers for hire).

Alongside the merchant fleet, The IMO estimates the number of fishing vessels to be 4.6 million, 64,000 of which being over 24m in length.

The size of a database containing all merchant vessels (past and present) and basic characteristics would be 5m+ records while more complex databases can exceed 15m+.

Image by tawatchai07 on Freepik

What is vessel data and where does it come from?

Vessel data is typically broken down into the following categories:

*Please note this is a comprehensive but not exhaustive list of all fields available*


  • Name

  • IMO

  • MMSI

  • Call sign

  • Vessel type

  • Flag


  • Yard number

  • Built by

  • Built at

  • Order data

  • Delivery data

  • Construction start date

  • Construction end date

  • Launched


  • Gross tones

  • Deadweight tones


  • Breadth (extreme and molded)

  • Depth

  • Draught

  • Freeboard

  • Length

Class and insurance

  • P&I club

  • Class


  • Docking survey

  • Intermediate survey

  • Special survey

  • Tailshaft survey

Hull Details

  • Hull type

  • Build material

  • Bulbous bow

  • Decks

  • Bulkheads


  • Container capacity (TEU)

  • Tank capacity

  • Dry capacity

  • Holds

  • Lifting gear

Machinery - Main engines:

  • Type

  • Designation

  • Built by

  • Built at

  • Designed by

  • Power

  • Cylinders

  • Bore

  • Stroke

  • Fuel

  • Auxiliary engines

  • Primary fuel type

  • Speed

  • Boilers

  • Scrubbers


AIS messages (link to static information point on ship tracking blog):

Almost every supplier will use AIS messages as base data as well as a mechanism to update their records. As data is captured, it is cross referenced against existing records for discrepancies and then decisions are made (manual and/or automated) as to whether the existing record is kept or replaced.

These decisions may be based on whether the new record can be corroborated by other sources.

MMSI BaseDateTime LAT LON SOG COG Heading VesselName IMO CallSign VesselType Status Length Width Draft Cargo TransceiverClass

Class societies

Flag states

  • The flag state of a merchant vessel is the jurisdiction under whose laws the vessel is registered or licensed, and is deemed the nationality of the vessel

P&I clubs

  • A P&I club is a mutual insurance association that provides risk pooling, information and representation for its members. Unlike a marine insurance company, which reports to its shareholders, a P&I club reports only to its members.

Ship brokers

  • Specialist intermediaries that work between ship owners and charters and/or facilitating the sale and purchase of ships.

Ship owners/operators

  • Owner or operator a ship to move cargo or passengers. The owner may choose to operate the ship themselves or charter their asset on short-, medium- or long-term bases. That decision is often driven by market conditions.

How can I use it?

Market analysis

  • What is the composition of the fleet and how is it changing (are they growing/shrinking)?

Target market

  • What is the total addressable market for your product?

Risk assessment

  • Can this ship fit in this port/terminal berth?

  • Should you work with this ship (KYC)?


  • Can you work with this ship ?

Chartering and vetting

  • Is this ship sufficient for your requirement?


  • What is the likelihood of this ship having a claim over the next 12 months?

How can I access it?


  • Modularised platforms Platform products that can tailor your access to only provide you with the vessel data you require.

  • All in one platforms These platforms typically integrate Vessel data with other data sets such as Vessel ownership and Ship tracking in order to show the user what sort of ship they are viewing, who owns and/or operates it and where they operate.

Download allowances vary by supplier and terms & conditions of platform products are usually more restrictive than data feeds.

Data feeds

Various suppliers provide direct data feeds, either proprietary or resold.

The benefit or going with a supplier of proprietary data is they tend to have more control over quality assurance and uptime vs resellers who must resolve issues via a 3rd party whereas resellers will often add value through aggregation or augmentation.

These feeds are typically delivered via API or FTP.

  • API - the delivery mechanism can often be as important as the product it is delivering.

  • FTP - a less dynamic but effective way of delivering large data files.

Take the time to speak to the Data Services/Delivery teams to understand the mechanics of their APIs as well as their record of maintaining them i.e uptime and error management.

How to assess one supplier vs another?

Basic framework:

Degree of detail

  • How many/what fields of data do they provide?

  • A high-level target market assessment may only require basic fields (type, size, age etc) whereas an underwriter or a vetting team may require far more granular detail like a vessel’s construction history in order to assess the risk of a claim and/or breakdown.

Field population

  • What is the fill rate of the fields you require?

Real vs derived insights

  • Some suppliers to improve their fill rates by creating derived data in absence of a real record. (For example, vessels with identical engine designations are likely to have identical power outputs)

  • These fields are typically highlighted with asterisks however be sure to ask during your assessment

Update frequency

  • How often are the records updated?

  • Assessing historical data is great way to assess a suppliers update frequency


  • How often do they select and display the correct field?

  • Selecting the latest record does not necessarily mean they have selected the most accurate

  • This can be determined by breadth of sources used and manor in which the records are analyzed (For example, if a small ship broker has information contrary to that of the vessel’s flag state and ship and P&I Club, should that record be trusted as the truth?)

Is there a cost to use the data? 


Equasis - Equasis

Equasis is a public site created and maintained by the European Maritime Safety Agency.

It’s aim is to help promote maritime safety by providing information on ships and their owners/operators.

Once you have completed the free sign up, users get access to a limited number of vessel data fields and can perform single ship or company searches, with links to the same vessel profiles on free vessel tracking sites.

Free AIS providers

As mentioned, AIS messages contain certain static data fields that can provide users with basic information such as:

Static information:

  • Identity

  • IMO number

  • Length and beam

  • Vessel type

  • Location of position-fixing antenna

Paid for:

While many paid for providers will also use AIS as a source to update their vessel databases, their offerings are far broader and more granular, with some suppliers claiming access to 600+ fields.

Many of the aforementioned sources will sell their data directly either via platforms or structured/unstructured feeds.

The most comprehensive vessel databases ingest a combination of multiple free and paid for feeds in effort to establish transparency in what is an otherwise opaque domain.


Vessel data is a cornerstone of many maritime databases.

It has wide-ranging application from target market and business development strategies at marine equipment manufacturers to compliance programs at multinational trade finance banks. That being said, there is no one source of truth.

Vessel databases range quite dramatically in degree of detail, field population, frequency and accuracy, driven mostly by suppliers having access to different sources of information as well different approaches to quality assurance.

We urge buyers to take real consideration when selecting their supplier of choice as moving from one to another may require extensive work to convert one set of fields to another (they sometimes call the same thing different names) as well as adjusting for your target market increasing or decreasing. Try explaining that one to the Board...

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

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


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