About Water Freight

Water freight is at the core of our modern economy. 95% of goods entering or exiting this country do so by sea. The long distance connections to the rest of the world underpin our quality of life and ability to trade with the world.

The UK is served by an extensive array of water freight connections – between us and the Continent, around the UK, and within it.
Companies that wish to maximise the efficiency of their supply chain and minimise their environmental impact are already utilising the possibilities that these services have to offer.

Traffic on UK domestic waters alone accounted for 22 per cent of all goods moved in the UK in 2009 – accounting for almost 50 billion tonne kilometres of freight movements. Water freight is available to all kinds of traffic.



Services carry containerised goods around the UK and across to the Continent.

These often work as ‘feeder’ services – connecting the major deep sea ports to other ports around the UK. Using these services, manufacturers and retailers (knows as ‘shippers’) can get their goods delivered to a port much more local to their needs. As the trend towards larger and larger deep sea vessels continues these ships may call at fewer ports. This will make more feeder services viable and all the more vital.

Container services also form an effective part of goods movements within Europe, offering a port to port service to help reduce reliance on roads. Indeed, UK domestic coastal services alone carry out 2.5 billion tonne km of container movements each year.


Water freight works as a seamless part of road-oriented supply chains. Roll-on roll-off (‘ro-ro’) services allow all the convenience and efficiency of road freight (as goods do not need to be unloaded/reloaded by mechanisms such as cranes). But they offer both cost and carbon savings due to the greater efficiency of allowing a boat to take several hundred lorries at once. Using services from Iberia or the Baltic for example can take thousands of tonne kilometres off the roads.

Hauliers utilise these services to provide better service to their customers and to help manage their environmental footprint.

Bulk goods

Bulk goods form some of the best users of water freight services – the scale and nature of them are expensive to move by road and well suited to the nature of ships.

Bulk products such as petroleum, metals, aggregates, coal, forestry and agricultural products make extensive use of all forms of water freight. Biomass for power generation is a growth area for the future. Due to the cost of moving these goods by even relatively short stretches of road, they are particularly heavy users of inland waterways.

Inland waterways

There are opportunities around the UK where estuaries, rivers and canals can be made to work for freight – particularly bulk services but also containerised goods.

Examples of such places would include the Manchester Ship Canal, the Thames, the Forth, the Humber, the Severn and the Aire and Calder.


We need to make the most of all opportunities we have if we are to meet the environmental, energy and economic challenges facing the UK. Water freight is one of those opportunities, ready to be used today.