Source: Expanded from the American Association of Port Authorities. Based on a sample of the world’s largest ports in terms of tonnage. N=156.
Port sites have been the subject of geographical considerations, with a preference for sites combining a good maritime profile with inland accessibility. There is a vast array of port sites linked to specific nautical profiles, which are articulated around seaports and mainland ports:
- Seaports. These ports have direct access to the sea and try to take advantage of a local geographical feature. This can involve (A) bays or direct coastline, and (B) natural harbors, or protected locations. These sites are often associated with a lateral expansion of the port facilities, often towards locations with a deeper nautical profile.
- Mainland Ports. These ports are linked to a major river, which often serves a vast hinterland. There are ports in (C) an estuary, (D) a delta, and (E) along a river, often at the furthest point of inland navigation. These sites are associated with an upstream expansion of port facilities and commonly require substantial dredging efforts to maintain or improve their nautical profile.
The above map provides a sample representative of the largest port facilities and their sites. The most common sites are those in bays or by the coastline (50%), followed by natural harbors (20%). This underlines the importance of maritime accessibility for the world’s largest ports. The remaining 30% involves ports located along river systems. Since the sample concerns larger ports, mainland ports tend to be less represented due to lower drafts.