A Guide to Understanding Ship Weight and Tonnage Measurements

by Ben Dinsmore on May 16, 2011

Do you know the difference between Net Tonnage and Lightweight Tonnage?  By my count there are at least six different ways a vessel’s “tonnage” is measured in regards to ships, MODUs, and other types of commercial vessels (Displacement Tonnage, Standard Displacement Tonnage, Deadweight Tonnage, Lightweight Tonnage, Gross Registered Tonnage, and Net Registered Tonnage).

If you’re a little confused about what all these different units of measurement mean, here’s a quick guide to help straighten you out the next time someone asks you “how much your ship weighs”.

What is Displacement Tonnage:

Displacement tonnage is nothing more than the total weight of the volume of water a ship “displaces” when it is sitting in the water.

Imagine you had a large bucket filled to the brim with water. Now, suppose you gently placed a basketball in the bucket causing some of the water in the bucket to spill out. Once the basketball had stabilized and was freely floating in the bucket, the weight of the water that was “displaced” is equal to the “displacement” (or weight) of the basketball.

What is Standard Displacement Tonnage:

Standard displacement tonnage is basically the same thing as “displacement tonnage” with one minor difference. When calculating standard displacement tonnage, you subtract the weight of any fuel and potable water carried on board the ship.

What is Deadweight Tonnage:

Deadweight tonnage is the weight (in tons) of all the cargo, fuel, dry provisions, supplies, etc. carried on board the ship. In other words, it is the “displacement tonnage” of the vessel minus the “lightweight tonnage” (see lightweight tonnage below).  Deadweight tonnage is a good indication for ship owners and clients of how much revenue the vessel is capable of generating.

What is Lightweight Tonnage:


Lightweight tonnage is best described as the weight of the ship when it was built in the shipyard including all framing, machinery, decking, etc. However, lightweight tonnage does not include the weight of any consumable such as fuel, water, oil, or supplies.

What is Gross Registered Tonnage:

Gross registered tonnage is a measurement of volume of all enclosed spaces on a ship with 100 cubic feet = to one ton. For instance, if the total cubic volume of all the enclosed spaces on a ship were 340,000 cubic feet, the gross registered tonnage will most likely be 3400 gross tons (340,000 cu. feet/100 cu feet/ton = 3400 Gross Tons).

Gross Tonnage or “Gross Tons” is what you’ll see most often on official ship documents and certificates, but you’ll also set “net tons” and “deadweight tons” (expresses DWT) used from time to time.

What is Net Registered Tonnage:

Net registered tonnage is also a measurement of volume however you only consider the volume of actual cargo storage areas when dividing the cubic volume in feet by 100 to get your “tonnage”.  This includes any tanks, cargo holds, etc. that are normally used for transporting cargo.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Israel January 29, 2012 at 4:28 am

Hello good day sir/madam,please am so impress with your explanation on tonnage,but there one thing am searching for which i ve not yet found,please can you send me or paste it on your site,the formular for calculating the quantity of cargo in a tank by measurement either in cubic feet or cubic meter,and why is that density and specific gravity is always apply when calculating fluid like crude oil and diesel?thanks……israel

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RHAIT ABDELAZIZ March 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

Good work

Teacher of navigation and ship satbility

Thank you

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manish December 6, 2013 at 2:40 am

Hello sir/madam
Am business man, and I have just started deals in shipping line, for buying ships, vessels, Barge, passengers ships Etc, on scrape / Demolition basis,,

What I want to know from maritime n readers, where or how i can get Right Weight for ships, or on which websites,
Because i have been cheated ones by some Brokers, and i made some Losses,
they confused me with (DWT) deadweight tons,
So i request to all of U, to how do i get the right values/ Weight of ship before i makes any new Deal in this fild, thanks

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SHIV KUMAR KANSAL March 13, 2012 at 1:04 am

Very useful information.

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Samy youssef September 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm

what is the difference between the ship displacement and the ship total mass? and is there any empirical formula to calculate the ship total mass from its displacement

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Mark April 11, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Can somebody tell me why, pray tell, there are no stats published for the displacement of commercial vessels – only naval vessels? I only see stats for DWT or GT. Nothing on how heavy the ship itself is.

I want to compare the actual total plimsoll line weight of a ship like the Emma Maersk vs the weight of ship like an aircraft carrier.

Thank you.

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Nik July 22, 2013 at 11:55 am

can u write some note or extra information about element of shipping?

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Kim Huon August 6, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Hello my name is Kim I work at the Inland Waterway Transport Department.
It is complicated for a measurement of a ship. When I go down to survey a ship.
I am not sure how to calculate the GT and DWT. The Displacement is OK because of
L, B, d, and the Block Coefficient. So I need the help so much. Thank you.
Best regards

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manish December 6, 2013 at 2:55 am

How to calculate weight of a empty ship? Help Please?

I am supposed to find the weight of an empty ship for a class, but the only information i’m given is the ships Gross Register Tonnage, Net Register Tonnage, Deadweight, Cargo Capacity, Length, Breadth, and Depth. I tried wikipedia but didn’t understand what they were saying. Please help

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raji manish May 15, 2014 at 5:15 am

Hello sir / madam

Pls let me know how to get a light ship weight of vessel, ship,barges etc.
Because am always getting confusion when i read (DWT)

I am new in this field for scraping /demolition ship
Now always when I ask any one for the ship details, and actul weight(Leigh ship weight ) they send me DWT weight.
So I don’t know how to get a light ship weight…

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Henry Lee July 29, 2014 at 4:49 am

After an extended period of getting confused by all these terms, I finally understand the difference between them. Great illustration and explanation!

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Adegoke Gbadebo August 11, 2014 at 4:42 am

Which tonnage should i consider while negotiating for obsolute ship for scrap purchase

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Chris August 27, 2014 at 12:27 am

Hi,
Great explanations….
I have a ship to scrap in United Arab Emirates
GT :268
NT: 80
DWT : 396
You can contact me at chris@arabiayachting.com

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Ben Dinsmore August 29, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for stopping by my maritime blog Mr. Chris and good luck scrapping your ship!

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Chris August 27, 2014 at 12:27 am

Hi,
Very clear
I have a ship to scrap in United Arab Emirates
GT :268
NT: 80
DWT : 396
You can contact me at chris@arabiayachting.com

Reply

Ben Dinsmore August 29, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for stopping by my maritime blog Mr. Chris and good luck scrapping your ship!

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Hector Roberts August 29, 2014 at 10:02 am

Thank you very much for your information. I am a Senior Tonnage Surveyor for the Panama Canal, and sometimes it is very difficult to explain to others some terms. This simplifies a lot much explaining.

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Ben Dinsmore August 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Thank you Hector! How are things going with the expansion of the Panama canal?

Reply

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