What Are Passenger Ships?

Some cargo ships also offer sleeping berths for transporting passengers.
Clipper ships were used to carry settlers to California throughout the 1850s.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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Passenger ships are vessels primarily designed to transport people over a body of water. Ships of this type can be relatively small, providing only limited space for passengers, or have a capacity to carry well over a thousand individuals. A passenger ship may follow a regular route through local waterways or provide recreational opportunities, such as an extended vacation cruise.

In the strictest sense, a vessel has to meet only a couple of standards in order to be classified as a passenger ship. First, the vessel must provide a suitable amount of space for a minimum of twelve passengers. Second, passenger ships must be designed for conveying people as its primary function. However, it is possible for passenger ships to sometimes also carry small amounts of freight or other items in a hold or other area of the ship.


For many people, the mention of passenger ships brings to mind a vision of a cruise ship. This type of passenger vessel is considered an ideal setting for a vacation. Cruise ships normally have a number of options with sleeping accommodations, providing something suitable for all sorts of vacation budgets. Most of these types of passenger ships include casual and fine dining facilities, entertainment, amusements and even shopping opportunities. In some cases, the ships are used for ocean-going cruises that may last for a week or more. Many cruise lines also regularly offer shorter cruises that take passenger ships along a planned route involving two to three ports of call.

Smaller passenger ships are sometimes chartered for private events, such as deep-sea fishing. Generally, the smaller ships include sleeping accommodations that are relatively simple, such as bunks. A galley kitchen provides a means of preparing food during the trip. Even the smaller ships will include basic facilities for personal hygiene, effectively providing all the basics necessary for an enjoyable passage.

While most passenger ships focus on transporting people, there are vessels designed with a dual purpose in mind. These passenger cargo ships usually incorporate storage facilities as well as sleeping berths and other amenities necessary to make passengers comfortable. Operating this type of vessel can allow owners to use the ship to make money from both hauling freight and providing transportation to people who wish to travel over water rather than other modes of transportation.

While passenger shipping is not as popular as in decades past, cruises and even smaller chartered vessels are still very much in demand. Generally, individuals or groups who wish to book passage on passenger ships must make arrangements well in advance, in order to obtain the best rates and also allow the owners of the ships to make preparations for the voyage.


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