What is stevedoring?

Terminal Operations Jul 14, 2020

"Hello, I'm looking for Mr. Doring"


"Mr. Doring. Steve Doring. I saw this was his number."

Steve Doring is not a person (well maybe someone is named Steve Doring) but is a term to refer to people who load and unload ships, pronounced ste-va-door.

The job of a stevedore has been around as long as ship have carried cargo but there are two different takes on the term stevedore. The first is a job title and the second is an industry. Stevedoring in general terms is defined as loading cargo to a ship or unloading cargo from a ship.

The Job of a Stevedore

The job of a stevedore is primarily to unload the cargo from the ship and place it on the dock for a truck to pick up. In days previous, this was someone loading a ship by carrying bags of rice on and off, or barrels, or bottles of whatever the cargo was. With larger breakbulk pieces, like logs or vehicles, the cargo is lashed in a way that the cargo cannot move when the ship is at sea. One of the main responsibilities of a stevedore is to ensure that once the cargo is placed onboard the ship, it will not move.

When at sea, the movement of the ship may cause the cargo to move around - known as shifting. This movement is normal to some extent, but a huge job of the stevedore is to make sure it moves as minimally as possible. Unexpected movement of cargo is dangerous for a ship at sea, it could potentially cause the ship to sink. This makes the responsibility of securing the cargo to the ship an insanely important one.

In today's world stevedores typically are the ones responsible for securing containers on board the ship. They will insert special locking devices in the bottom of containers - called cones - that secure the containers together to prevent shifting when at sea. They still perform the same job as before for breakbulk cargo.

The Stevedore Company

In a larger sense stevedoring is loading a ship and unloading it. The companies that hire people to do stevedore work are referred to to stevedoring companies or just stevedores.

Stevedoring companies take the responsibility of planning and orchestrating the process of loading and unloading a ship once it arrives into port. Stevedore companies operate marine terminals, either on a temporary/per job basis or as a full time terminal operator, like a container terminal.

The relationship between a stevedore and a stevedore company is a symbiotic one, they both do the same thing but at different scales. The stevedore is the person on the ground level, taking responsibility to ensure that the cargo is loaded properly and safely. The stevedore takes a much higher level approach to loading and unloading cargo. While the stevedore company is ultimately responsible for the proper and safe loading and securing of cargo, they do so at a higher level by creating the plans and organizing the operation as well as hiring people to ensure the safe lashing and stowage of cargo.

Photo by Mildly Useful / Unsplash

For example, when loading a ship with individual logs, the stevedore worker operates the cranes to load the vessel and then lashed or secures the logs to the vessel to prevent them from moving when the ship gets out to sea. The stevedoring company creates a plan for working the log ship, including how long it may take or where the logs need to go and do so by ensuring there are enough people and equipment to perform the work. The stevedore company hires the stevedore worker to preform the plan.

Both the stevedore worker and company work together for the benefit of each other as well as the ship that needs cargo moved.

Nick Seferos

Sea-going maritime professional on ships and tugs turned to shore-side terminal life. Nick manages shore-side personnel and security, customs, and hazardous shipments in a container terminal.

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