About 80% of the international trade volume is facilitated through our oceans, in various types of cargo vessels. Serving an ever-increasing demand, these bulk carriers and container ships are required to operate efficiently on the seas and in the ports. One important factor in determining efficiency at the port is through a short vessel turnaround time. 

Vessel Turnaround Time (VTT) is the total amount of time that a vessel spends at a port. It is measured from the time the vessel arrives at the port until the time it departs. Vessel Turnaround Time is also known as vessel turn time and is an efficiency metric that applies to all types of cargo ships. 

Seaports and terminal operators rely on efficient vessel turnaround, to remain competitive in the market. A prolonged dwell time of vessels is costly and can negatively affect shipping lines and various other stakeholders in their respective supply chains. 

In this article, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at vessel turnaround time, what it measures and how it’s affected. We’ll also share a list of some of the most efficient ports in the world that have the lowest vessel turn times!

What Constitutes Vessel Turnaround Time?

Many moving parts within the port terminal contribute to the amount of time it takes to turn around a vessel. Let’s take a closer look at how vessel turnaround time is calculated and what it comprises. 

  • Waiting For Berthing – Once a vessel arrives at a port, it needs to be assigned a berth by the port planners. During port congestion, it’s common to see vessels anchored in the port areas. 
  • Berthing – A vessel is required to berth so that it can carry out various types of activities. The process of berthing also counts toward a vessel’s turnaround time.
  • Cargo Loading & Unloading – Depending on the type of vessel cargo is loaded onto it using different types of port cranes. Cargo can include containers and breakbulk, among others. 
  • Idling – Vessels are also subject to idling in certain scenarios, such as staff rotation, waiting for containers to arrive, and various other reasons. 
  • Other Activities – Other activities that are calculated in a vessel’s turnaround time are delays caused by crewing, inspections, documentation, and others. 

The turnaround time of a vessel starts after it has arrived at the port and ends when it has departed. All activities between the arrival and the departure count towards the turnaround time. 

What Affects Vessel Turnaround Time?

As ports are becoming more integrated and newer vessels become larger, it’s important to reduce the overall turn time of a vessel, so that they can be operated more efficiently. 

While port operators and terminals expand heavily in infrastructure, increase container throughput, and reduce operational inefficiencies in hopes of reducing the overall vessel turnaround time, certain factors can a negative effect. Let’s take a closer look at these. 

1. Port Infrastructure 

Not all ports are of the same size and configuration. If a port lacks the required infrastructure, such as equipment or staff, it can have a massive effect on the vessel turnaround time.  

Other types of port-related aspects can also reduce the turnaround time of a vessel, such as port planning software, advanced planning, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for container shunting, and various other innovations. 

2. Vessel 

Vessels have different capacities, which are measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Modern-day vessels can carry anything between 1,000 and up to about 20,000 TEUs. The bigger the vessel is, the more cargo it can hold and the longer it requires to be turned around, as loading and unloading activities require more time. 

3. Stowage Plan

Vessel planners and port operations teams work within a framework of well-established processes to achieve a balance between container discharge and loading activities.

Information flows between carriers and port operators for incoming and outgoing shipments. Inefficient stowage plans or stowing containers in the wrong locations can increase the overall turnaround time of vessels. 

4. Congestion

When ports facilitate vessels beyond their capacity or the container throughput is too high, they can become congested. Port congestion typically has negative effects on vessel turnaround times, as the waiting time for berthing, as well as container loading and loading activities, get delayed. 

Congestion can also result from prolonged containers inside the terminal handicapping port space, thus slowing the turnaround of vessels until enough containers have been pulled out of the terminal.

5. Weather 

Weather disturbances such as fog, storms, and strong winds can also affect berthing and loading or unloading activities, causing a delay in turnaround time. 

Occasionally, certain port activities may need to be temporarily stopped, until it’s safe to resume again. 

6. Political Situation

Political unrest or local labor relations may lead to strikes, port closures, and even trade embargoes, among various other consequences that can delay vessel turn time. 

7. Pandemic

Outbreaks of viruses may also lead to delays, due to partial or full port closures. These circumstances often lead to the underutilization of port equipment and resources.

In such events, vessels experience a longer turn time, as congestion builds up over time, as well as a shortage of equipment and labor. Some vessels may omit the port entirely for some time.    

Fastest Vessel Turnaround By Port

Ports across the world have different practices, capacities, equipment, and innovations, allowing them to operate productively and efficiently. Let’s explore some of the ports that achieve the fastest vessel turnaround time in the world.

Take note that the list below is sourced from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). This chart shows the average amount of days a vessel remains at the respective ports (vessel turnaround time). 

PositionCountry (All Ports)Average Days in Port
1Japan 0.34
3Hong Kong 0.52
6Republic of Korea0.64
10United Kingdom0.73
20United Arab Emirates0.95
23United States of America1.03
25Russian Federation1.31

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Gerrit Poel

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Gerrit is a certified international supply chain management professional with 16 years of industry experience, having worked for one of the largest global freight forwarders.

As the co-founder of freightcourse, he’s committed to his passion for serving as a source of education and information on various supply chain topics.