Difference Between Port and Harbor

There are various terminologies related to the marine industry that the mariners or people from the same industry understand. But common people are not that aware to know the meaning of such terms.


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Some terms are often confused with one another. The two confusing terms are port and harbor.

Both are a docking place for ships and boats on the shores of oceans or rivers.

Port vs Harbor

The difference between Port and Harbor is in their purpose. A port is a place to conduct commercial trade, loading and unloading the containers and cargo, that generates revenue for the country whereas a harbor is a sheltering or docking place for ships, boats and other water vessels, usually surrounded by barriers for protection from weather conditions, currents, etc.

Port vs Harbor

A port is a place where commercial trade is carried out, usually equipped with all kinds of facilities that are required during the trade. Ports are generally man-made places on the shores.

A harbor is a place to take shelter for boats and ships surrounded by protective walls to protect ships, boats and other vessels from waves, currents and rough weather conditions.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonPortHarbor
Basic definitionA port is a place used for commercial purposes.A place where ships and boats take shelter under some protection or it is a place for storage of ships and boats.
ConstructionPorts are usually man-made maritime facilities.Harbor can be either natural or man-made.
FacilitiesEquipped with lifts, cranes, other modes of transportation, storage facilities for chemicals and fuels, facilities for crew members.Facilities at a harbor are limited as it is more of a parking facility, that is, the harbor has less commercial facilities available.
AccessibilityA port is accessible through commercial channels, sea routes, canals, rails, roads and all other modes of transportation.Accessibility of a harbor is limited.


What is Port?

A maritime facility in water comprising of more than one quay, saith or wharf for loading and unloading of cargo, containers or passengers is termed as a Port. Usually, a port is located on the shore of the sea but some ports may also be located on the banks of rivers and canals.

In the technical terms, a port is a convergence area or point between freight and circulation domains. It acts as a gateway or entrance for cargo and people, with each quay having a specific purpose.

Ports are generally artificially made. Ports are mostly used for commercial activities like loading and unloading cargoes, import and export of goods between countries and transporting people from one place to another.

In other words, it can be said that a port is a marine trading center. Ports are made equipped with machines like a forklift, cranes, rail and road transports and all other facilities that may be required there.

It is also equipped with housing facilities for staff members. Some of the major ports of the world are the port of Tangier in the Mediterranean, Africa, the port of Vishakhapatnam, India, the port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the port of Shanghai, China, etc.


What is Harbor?

A place in water often sheltered by natural or artificial barriers used to dock ships, boats and other water vessels is termed as a harbor. A harbor is mainly used to protect shops and boats from waves, currents and other weather conditions.

Harbors are not well equipped as a port; they have limited facilities. All harbors have the capacity to serve as a port.

Harbors are mostly naturally made, surrounded by waterwalls, rocks, rifts, jetties, etc. Natural harbors have great economic importance. They facilitate the navigation of ships.

Examples of natural harbors are Mumbai in Maharashtra, India, Bali Strait, Indonesia, Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, US, Sydney Harbor, Australia, Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, India, etc. However, with the growing commercial needs, artificial harbors are being developed, surrounded by artificially made breakwaters, jetties, seawalls, etc.

Examples of artificial harbors are the Port of Houston, Texas, US, the port of Long Beach, California, US, the port of Savannah, Georgia, US, etc.


Main Differences Between Port and Harbor

  1. A port is a commercial place whereas a harbor is a parking, docking or sheltering place.
  2. A port is usually a man-made place whereas a harbor can be natural or man-made.
  3. A port is used to trade between two countries, shipping cargo and containers from one country to another or taking people from one place to another while a harbor is used to shelter ships and boats usually surrounded by walls to protect them from rough weather conditions and water currents.
  4. A port is equipped with all the facilities required for commercial purposes and housing facilities for the support staff whereas harbors are equipped with limited facilities.
  5. A port is accessible through channels, canals, sea routes, rail, roads, etc, a harbor may or may not be accessible through all channels because it is usually protected from sides.
  6. All ports are harbors but the vice versa is not necessarily true.
  7. A port may be located inside a harbor but a harbor can never be inside a port.
Difference Between Port and Harbor


  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=OCblBwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=Port+and+Harbor&ots=FvBJXN_OJO&sig=A617HA9-QsJFj_wMTP4fJWeMyrg
  2. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5dfd/6edce6a2f7a7ea934b5138071f91beb144fb.pdf
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