Port vs. Harbour

Port and harbour are two confusing words of English language that are presumed to have the same meanings because they both are places used by ships and other water vessels.

If we see the port and harbour from the coastline, they may look the same, but they serve different purposes. The main difference between them is the make. A port is a man-made haven that connects the land and the sea used for commerce and trade such as, loading and unloading of cargo, passengers, or anything that generates revenue. Whereas, the harbour is a natural area filled with water and sheltered by natural barriers like rock and land that provides a safe shelter for ships, boats, and barges from stormy weather.

Comparison Chart

Basis Port Harbour
Definition A port is a man-made commercial place along the coastline that is mainly used for import and export of goods and cargo from one country to another A harbour is a small natural area next to the shore connecting the piece of land with a large water body that is mainly used to provide shelter to ships and other water vessels from stormy weather
Function It is a commercial place for docking and storage of boats It is a place of safety for ships
Facilities A port has a huge number of facilities. For example, it has cranes and lifts to move heavy cargo, and it also has connections to rail links and road transport. It is bigger in size with facilities of restaurants, hotels, and offices. It also has special storage facilities for chemicals and fuel and a big area for ships repairing A harbour is smaller and has less commercial facilities as it is merely a place for safety and anchoring of ships
Construction It is always constructed by man and is well-equipped with cranes and warehouses for ease of trade and operation. Some ports are built on harbours. However, a harbour cannot be built on a port It can be natural or man-made
Usage A port in all over the world is responsible for trade and commerce between different countries A harbour is a great spot to enjoy recreational facilities and water sports. Many natural harbours like Pearl Harbour, Sydney Harbour, and New York Harbour have historical and recreational significance and serves as a destination places to attract tourists
Accessibility A port is mainly accessed through the commercial entrance and sea route. However, it may also be accessible via a canal or river if it is part of a dry port. There are rail and road links for commercial access to a port As a port, a harbour is also accessible but for different reasons
Value A port is a valuable asset to any country with a coastline and serves as a commercial enterprise A harbour is a valuable safety place for ships and other water vessels.

What is Port?

A port can be defined as an area on the shores of a sea connecting the land and the sea for commerce and trade such as, loading and unloading of cargo, passengers, or anything that makes revenue.

It is man-made, bigger in size, and equipped with warehouses for storage of goods. It has many cranes for loading and unloading cargo and docks for parking ships. A port also has a number of amenities like restaurants, hotels, and offices to fulfill the need of the workers.

Port is a fusion point of water and land, and therefore there are number of trains and trucks that come into the port for either importing (picking up from cargo) or exporting (loading onto a ship)

Many countries have many ports, along with major rivers. Mississippi River in the USA, the Yangtze in China, and Great Lakes in North America are some of the examples of major rivers having many ports.

Each one of the ports is controlled, operated, and run by a Port Authority, which sets the commercial tariff for the handling of ships, goods, and passengers at that port. There are different types of ports such as, fishing ports, warm-water ports that do not freeze, inland ports linked to a canal or river, dry ports connected by rail or road, and cruise ship ports for passenger ships.

A port offers the following facilities:

  • Loading and unloading of large cargo ships
  • Hotels, restaurants, and offices to fulfill the needs of workers
  • It connects the rail and road networks to transport cargo
  • Storage of goods in warehouses to export
  • It serves as a convenient stop for commercial shipping repairs and refueling

Benefits of Port

  • It helps in increasing the economic status of the country by supporting the smoothness of trade between the island or country (export and import) and the development of the surrounding area.
  • It supports the smooth production of a company or factory. Ports are needed to smooth out the marketing of their products or to bring in raw materials for their production. There is even a special port that is used to serve the company in production.
  • It supports the defense and security of a country based on political, economic, and technical considerations such as military ports.

Disadvantages of Port

  • It causes marine pollution in the coastal area of ​​the harbour.
  • Families living in the coastal areas will feel hot, caused by the wind from the beach.
  • Houses located in coastal areas are more likely to do away with the flood.

What is Harbour?

The name harbour is derived from the old English language “herebeorg,” which means shelter or refugee.

A harbour can be defined as a body of water along the coastline protected by natural or artificial barriers that provide a ship with a safe anchorage and allows the transfer of cargo and passengers between the ship and the shore.

Most harbours are natural; however, some beautiful man-made harbours can be seen in different parts of the world. Natural harbours are usually surrounded by land on three sides and have one side opening to the sea through which the ships can pass. Whereas man-made have constructed with sea walls and jetties. A harbour offers the following:

  • A place of safety for ships and other vessels from stormy weather
  • Jetties and mooring places
  • Recreational facilities for owners of boats and tourists
  • A harbour may include a port if it is large enough to house both harbour and port

 Key Differences

  1. A port is always man-made and bigger in size while a harbour is either natural or man-made and smaller in size.
  2. A port is mainly used for commercial activities such as loading and unloading of ships, while a harbour is primarily used for recreational activities and also provides safe anchorage to ships and other water vessels in bad weather conditions.
  3. A port is a commercial place on the shores of sea with many facilities such as cranes, warehouses, and docks to support transport and trade while a harbour is a place on the shores of the sea that offers safe mooring of ships.


Port and harbour may serve similar purposes, but there are many differences between them. A port is a commercial place along the coastline that is mainly used for import and export of goods and cargo from one country to another. We can relate a port with an airport where airplanes arrive and depart. On the other hand, a harbour can be a man-made or a natural area connecting a piece of land with a large water body that is mainly used to provide shelter to ships and vessels from lousy weather. Harbours are used for safe anchorage of ships. Natural harbours are surrounded by land on most sides but have an entrance point to the sea.

When harbours are artificially created, they serve as ports. In ancient times, places that had natural harbours were of prime importance for trade between countries. These were the places where many of the most important cities were built in those times. Ports are mostly man-made, and their location along the coastline is chosen where the water is navigable. It is also close to land facilities and infrastructure. One point to remember is that ports can be built inside harbours, but harbours cannot be built-in ports.

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