Social media

International Forwarding Association Blog » Sea freight in Europe » Challenges and Complexities of Coastal Shipping Routes

Challenges and Complexities of Coastal Shipping Routes

Coastal shipping routes face many challenges not encountered by deep-sea routes. The main challenges include weather conditions, frequent port calls, navigational hazards, limited night-time operations, and the constraints of using small-size ships.


Weather Conditions

Coastal shipping routes are more directly affected by land weather patterns compared to deep-sea or open ocean routes. Inland geographic features impact weather in coastal waters, with valleys causing winds to accelerate and change direction rapidly and mountains forcing moist air to rise and condense, leading to increased rainfall. These geographical influences result in more frequent and intense weather events such as sudden storms, heavy rainfall, and strong winds. Such conditions can complicate loading and unloading operations at ports, disrupt shipping schedules, and cause significant delays in delivery that affect the supply chain.


Frequent Port Calls

Unlike deep-sea shipping routes which often involve long, uninterrupted journeys, short sea shipping requires vessels to make multiple stops at various ports along the way. This frequent port activity introduces several logistical complexities. First, if a vessel faces an unexpected delay at one port, it might miss its allocated slot in another. This can lead to further delays and disrupted schedules. Second, when ships maneuver in and out of ports, they must adjust speed which leads to increased fuel usage compared to maintaining a steady speed on open waters. Third, due to the multiple stops along the route, transit times can be considerably longer which can be a disadvantage for time-sensitive cargo.


Navigational Challenges

Coastal waters frequently present navigational challenges on shorter routes. These areas often have shallower water depths which contain underwater hazards like rocks, reefs, or sandbanks. Additionally, due to the close proximity to land, ships frequently encounter land-based obstacles such as piers, jetties, and other maritime infrastructure. To mitigate the risk of collision with these hazards, ships are required to navigate at reduced speeds that allow for enhanced maneuverability but extend travel times.


Limited Night-Time Operations

Limited visibility after dark restricts a ship’s ability to clearly identify and respond to hazards. This is why coastal regions often implement curfews or restrict night-time entry into and exit from ports. This often means that vessels have to adjust their speeds or wait offshore until permissible operating hours commence, which can lead to delays.


Small-Size Ships

Small vessels are commonly used on short sea routes because they are more maneuverable and can navigate shallower waters and narrower channels along coastlines more easily. However, their smaller size makes them less stable in rough waters, which can necessitate reducing speeds to maintain safety. This can lead to delays and disruptions in schedules. Additionally, smaller vessels typically have slower transit speeds compared to larger vessels which can extend transit times and pose risks for time-sensitive cargo. Furthermore, smaller vessels often have limited flexibility in terms of the types of cargo they can accommodate. Due to their size constraints, they may not be able to handle heavy or oversized cargo that requires more space. Moreover, they often lack specialized equipment like cranes for containers or bulk cargo loaders, which limits their ability to manage a variety of cargo types.