What happens when a 200-meter-long vessel carrying up to 8 500 cars calls a port?

15 June 2022
News

Have you ever wondered how a port call for a vessel almost 200 meters long carrying up to 8 500 cars spans out? It is a very cool operation, so here is a (rather short) description.

At Höegh Autoliners we do around 3 000 port calls each year while operating in a global network of 10 deep sea trades and loops - and a Caribbean shortsea service.

When a vessel is nearing a port, a pilot meets it outside the port limits, transported to the vessel by a launch boat and climbing onboard using the pilot ladder, which is connected to a shell door, an opening in the hull.

They board the vessel whilst it’s moving. Sometimes they arrive by helicopter - and are then winched down onto the weather deck.

The pilot is an experienced navigational officer and advises the vessel’s captain on local regulations and environment such as depths and currants. Their specific knowledge of the port is instrumental in manoeuvring the gigantic vessels safely in and around the ports.

The pilot then guides the vessel to the designated pier where it is moored. Most moorings are still done using ropes, as they are best in counteracting tides and waves. Usually, a forklift helps to transport the heavy mooring lines.

This part of the port call happens at a very low speed. Seeing it in real time, it can almost seem as if the vessels are not moving. But due to safety, we never rush anything.

Tugboats help pushing or pulling the vessels, as their slow speeds make it difficult to move or spin them. Once alongside and moored, there are multiple things happening simultaneously. 

First of all, stevedores load and discharge the vessel. Stevedores are professional cargo handlers in charge of cargo operations at port.

The biggest current Höegh vessels can carry cargo equivalent to 8,500 cars – placed directly after each other that would cover the distance of a marathon: 42,195 kilometres. It is quite the work.

Our new Aurora class vessels, first ones will be delivered in the second half of 2024, can carry up to 9,100 cars. They will be the largest and most environmentally friendly car carriers ever to be built. You can meet them right here.


Whilst moored and being discharged and reloaded, it is also time for bunkering fuel, crew disembarking or embarking, providing extra parts for the vessel and proviant for the crew, disposal of garbage, and technical service if needed.

When all is completed and the cargo is safely lashed, the pilot comes back onboard, guides the vessel out of the port, and then leaves using the pilot ladder to get to the launch boat.

Again whilst the vessel is moving, going to the next port, where a new port pilot will board the vessel and the operation is repeated all over again.