Sea freight: The Advantages and Disadvantages

There are two main ways to transport cargo and goods, sea freight and air freight. There are many advantages and disadvantages to each method, and there are many reasons as to why each method should be used and when. Both have advantages depending on your needs.

sea freight

There are elements that must be considered when shipping via sea freight, or air freight. Some of the main things that must be considered include the type of cargo, the charges, costs, dependability, volume, and speed. Some more in-depth things that may be considered are the environmental factors, security, and distance coverage.

Advantages of sea freight

Cheaper than other methods

Sea freight is quite drastically cheaper than other methods of freight transport, such as air, rail and road. According to the World Bank, sea freight is around twelve to sixteen times cheaper than air freight. One of the reasons that sea freight is so much cheaper than air freight, is because cargo ships hold more capacity than aeroplanes do. This would mean that ships’ supply outweighs the demand for it, meaning that prices will drop, as supply is outweighing demand.

Lower maintenance cost

Ships typically have a much lower maintenance cost than planes or trains do, and so this also plays a fairly significant role in why the costs of sea freight are so much lower.

Ships can carry bulkier goods

Ships can carry most bulky goods, such as automobile parts, machinery and industrial parts, whereas aeroplanes cannot. Planes cannot carry any heavy objects, whereas ships can. This is why it depends heavily on the type of goods that you are transporting. Of course, with some items, air freight may be the best option, such as smaller expensive or rare items, as there is more security with air freight and less things are likely to go wrong. However, if the item is large and heavy, then sea freight would be the way to go.

Foreign trade

Oceans have been connecting parts of the world for many, many years, and remains to be one of the main resources for international shipping. Although air freight has been increasing in its popularity, sea freight is still a very strong contender when it comes to selecting a method for foreign trade. It is argued that foreign trade is still highly dependent on sea shipping.


Sea freight is also incredibly more eco-friendly, as cargo ships consume much less fuel compared to other shipping methods, such as air freight. Many large organisations prefer to use sea freight rather than air freight due to the nature of ships being more eco-friendly.

A Defra study concluded that air freight is significantly more damaging to the environment. In the study, it was concluded that 2 tonnes of freight carried for 5,000km by a small container ship created 150kg of CO2e, compared to 6,605kg of CO2e by a plane carrying the same amount of freight and travelling the same distance. This is obviously a huge difference and if used regularly, could make a significant difference in the eco-system.


Cargo ships are designed to be safe and secure. Many cargo ships are designed to carry dangerous goods, and therefore are constructed to withstand a lot. The industry is very well-versed in handling such goods and can deal with situations that may arise during transportation. However, accidents can happen at sea.

During transportation via sea, cargo can be more open to the elements, which can become dangerous if there are dangerous goods on board. It is extremely important that all dangerous goods are declared properly aboard cargo ships, as incorrect storage or handling can be disastrous, for the ship, the environment and the crew.


Transporting goods via sea freight can be incredibly efficient compared to other transport methods as there are many different methods in which goods can be transported depending on your needs. Goods can be transported by container cargo, which is typically used for items such as computers, meat, clothing and toys. These containers are typically made with metal walls, in order to protect the goods inside from extreme weather conditions and moisture. These containers also fit on train wagons, barges and trucks, which can be incredibly useful.

You can also transport goods via liquid bulk, which involved hazardous goods, such as il, petrol, and crude oil. Dry bulk is another method which can be used in sea freight, and entails shipping goods such as grains, salt, sand, sugar, and cement. There is also break bulk, which allows you to ship art, household furniture, and vehicle parts. Finally, there is roll on/roll off cargo shipping. This involves the shipping of goods such as cars, heavy machinery and project cargo.



While there are many advantages of sea freight, there are also some disadvantages. One of the main disadvantages of sea freight is that it can be slow. Wait times for shipments done via sea freight can be anywhere up to a month, sometimes longer. However, air freight typically takes only 2 to 3 days. This is a significant time difference, so air freight may be the better and more convenient option for you if you are tight on time. These wait times for sea freight has also been extended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning that around an extra 2-week delay has been added.


Sea freight is also far more risky than other methods such as air freight. This is because there is a larger amount of time required from shipping to delivery. Damages can happen fairly easily to shipments unexpectedly, due to bad weather or other delays.

Lack of infrastructure

Sea freight shipping may not be accessible everywhere, as some parts of the world may not have the correct infrastructure in order to handle container shipments coming into their ports or may lack facilities at ports and terminals. Container ships typically require a large amount of capital expenditure.

If you have any questions regarding shipments, please do not hesitate to get in touch.