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Tonnage is a measure of the size or cargo carrying capacity of a ship. The term derives from the taxation paid on tuns or casks of wine, and was later used in reference to the weight of a ship's cargo; however, in modern maritime usage, "tonnage" specifically refers to a calculation of the volume or cargo volume of a ship. The term is still sometimes incorrectly used to refer to the weight of a loaded or empty vessel. The terms "Tonnage" and "Ton" have different meanings and are often confused.

Measurement of tonnage can be less than straightforward, not least because it is used to assess fees on commercial shipping.


Tonnage measurements

Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) represents the total internal volume of a vessel, where a register ton is equal to a volume of 100 cubic feet (2.83 ), which volume, if filled with fresh water, would weigh around 2,800 kg or 2.8 tonnes. Calculation of GRT is complex; a hold can, for instance, be assessed for bulk grain (accounting for all the air space in the hold) or for bales (omitting the spaces into which bulk, but not baled cargo would spill). Gross register tonnage was replaced by gross tonnage in 1994 under the Tonnage Measurement convention of 1969, but is still a widely used term in the industry.[1][2]

Net Register Tonnage (NRT) is the volume of cargo the vessel can carry; ie. the Gross Register Tonnage less the volume of spaces that will not hold cargo (e.g. engine compartment, helm station, crew spaces, etc., again with differences depending on which port or country is doing the calculations). It represents the volume of the ship available for transporting freight or passengers. It was replaced by net tonnage in 1994, under the Tonnage Measurement convention of 1969.

Gross Tonnage (GT) is a function of the volume of all ship's enclosed spaces (from keel to funnel) measured to the outside of the hull framing. The numerical value for a ship's GT is always smaller than the numerical values for both her gross register tonnage and the GRT value expressed equivalently in cubic meters rather than cubic feet, for example: 0.5919 GT = 1 GRT = 2.83 ; 200 GT = 274 GRT = 775 ; 500 GT = 665 GRT = 1,883 ; 3,000 GT = 3,776 GRT = 10,692 ), though by how much depends on the vessel design (volume). There is a sliding scale factor. So GT is a kind of capacity-derived index that is used rank a ship for purposes of determining manning, safety and other statutory requirements and is expressed simply as GT, which is a unitless entity, even though its derivation is tied to the cubic meter unit of volumetric capacity.

Tonnage measurements are now governed by an IMO Convention (International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships, 1969 (London-Rules)), which applies to all ships built after July 1982. In accordance with the Convention, the correct term to use now is GT, which is a function of the moulded volume of all enclosed spaces of the ship.

It is calculated by using the formula :  GT = K \cdot V , where V = total volume in m³ and K = a figure from 0.22 up to 0.32, depending on the ship’s size (calculated by :  K = 0.2 + 0.02 \cdot\log_{10}V ), so that, for a ship of 10,000 total volume, the gross tonnage would be 0.28 x 10,000 = 2,800 GT. GT is consequently a measure of the overall size of the ship.

Net tonnage (NT) is based on a calculation of the volume of all cargo spaces of the ship. It indicates a vessel’s earning space and is a function of the moulded volume of all cargo spaces of the ship.

A commonly defined measurement system is important; since a ship’s registration fee, harbour dues, safety and manning rules etc, are based on its gross tonnage, GT, or net tonnage, NT.

The Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) is based on net tonnage, modified for Panama Canal purposes. PC/UMS is based on a mathematical formula to calculate a vessel's total volume; a PC/UMS net ton is equivalent to 100 cubic feet of capacity.[3]

The Suez Canal Net Tonnage (SCNT) is derived with a number of modifications from the former Net Register Tonnage of the Moorsom System and was established by the International Commission of Constantinople in its Protocol of 18 December 1873. It is still in use, as amended by the Rules of Navigation of the Suez Canal Authority, and is registered in the Suez Canal Tonnage Certificate.

Thames measurement tonnage is another volumetric system, generally used for small vessels such as yachts; it uses a formula based on the vessel's length and beam.

Weight measurements

While not "tonnage" in the proper sense, the following methods of ship measurement are often incorrectly referred to as such:

Displacement is the actual total weight of the vessel. It is often expressed in long tons or in metric tons, and is calculated simply by multiplying the volume of the hull below the waterline (ie. the volume of water it is displacing) by the density of the water. (Note that the density will depend on whether the vessel is in fresh or salt water, or is in the tropics, where water is warmer and hence less dense.) For example, in sea water, first determine the volume of the submerged portion of the hull as follows: Multiply its length by its breadth and the draft, all in feet. Then multiply the product thereby obtained by the block coefficient of the hull to get the hull volume in cubic feet. Then multiply this figure by 64 (the weight of one cubic foot of seawater) to get the weight of the ship in pounds; or divide by 35 to calculate the weight in long tons. Using the SI or metric system : displacement (in tonnes) is volume (in m³) multiplied by the specific gravity of sea water (1.025 nominally).

The word "displacement" arises from the basic physical law, discovered by Archimedes, that the weight of a floating object equates exactly to that of the water which would otherwise occupy the "hole in the water" displaced by the ship.

Lightship or Lightweight measures the actual weight of the ship with no fuel, passengers, cargo, water, etc. on board.

Deadweight tonnage (often abbreviated as DWT for deadweight tonnes) is the displacement at any loaded condition minus the lightship weight. It includes the crew, passengers, cargo, fuel, water, and stores. Like Displacement, it is often expressed in long tons or in metric tons.


Historically, tonnage was the tax on tuns (casks) of wine that held approximately 252 gallons of wine and weighed approximately 2,240 pounds. This suggests that the unit of weight measurement, long tons (also 2,240 lb) and tonnage both share the same etymology. The confusion between weight based terms (deadweight and displacement) stems from this common source and the eventual decision to assess dues based on a ship's deadweight rather than counting the tuns of wine. In 1720 the Builder's Old Measurement Rule was adopted to estimate deadweight from the length of keel and maximum breadth or beam of a ship. This overly simplistic system was replaced by the Moorsom System in 1854 and calculated internal volume, not weight. This system evolved into the current set of internationally accepted rules and regulations.

When steamships came into being, they could carry less cargo, size for size, than sailing ships. As well as spaces taken up by boilers and steam engines, steamships carried extra fresh water for the boilers as well as coal for the engines. Thus, to move the same volume of cargo as a sailing ship, a steamship would be considerably larger than a sailing ship.

"Harbour Dues" are based on tonnage. In order to prevent steamships operating at a disadvantage, various tonnage calculations were established to minimise the disadvantage that the extra space requirements of steamships presented. Rather than charging by length or displacement etc, charges were calculated on the viable cargo space. As commercial cargo sailing ships are now largely extinct, Gross Tonnage is becoming the universal method of calculating ships dues, and is also a more straight-forward and transparent method of assessment.


  1. ^ CWP Handbook of Fishery Statistical Standards. Retrieved May 10, 2006.
  2. ^ International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships, 1969, International Maritime Organisation. Retrieved May 10, 2006.
  3. ^ Panama Canal Tolls, from the Panama Canal Authority. Retrieved May 10, 2006.


  • The Oxford Companion To Ships & The Sea, by I. C. B. Dear and Peter Kemp. Oxford University Press, 1979. ISBN 0-19-860616-8
  • Ship Design and Construction, Volume II; Thomas Lamb, Editor. Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 2004. ISBN 99909-0-620-3

See also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TONNAGE. The mode of ascertaining the tonnage of merchant ships is settled by the Merchant Shipping Acts. But before explaining the method by which this is computed, it is well to remark that there are several tonnages employed in different connexions. Displacement tonnage is that which is invariably used in respect of warships, and is the actual weight of water displaced by the vessel whose tonnage is being dealt 1 Jowett's translation.

with. Men-of-War are designed to carry all their weights, including coal, guns, ammunition, stores and water in tanks and in boilers, at a certain draught, and the tonnage attributed to them is the weight of water which at that designed draught they actually displace. This displacement tonnage is therefore a total made up of the actual weight of the ship's fabric and that of everything that is on board of her. It can be found by ascertaining the exact cubic space occupied by the part of her body which is immersed (including her rudder, propellers and external shafting) at the draught under consideration in cubic feet, and dividing this by 35, since 35 cubic feet of sea-water weigh one ton. Of course there is nothing to prevent displacement tonnage from being used in describing the size of merchant ships, and indeed in regard to the performances of fast steamships on trial it is usual to give their draught on the occasion when they are tested, and to state what was their actual displacement under these trial conditions. But it is obvious, from what has been said as to the components which go to make up the displacement at load draught, that this tonnage must, in respect of any individual ship, be the greatest figure which can be quoted in regard to her size. It is usual for dues to be assessed against merchant vessels in respect of their registered tonnage. This must therefore be fixed by authority, and at present vessels are measured by the officer of customs according to the rules laid down in the second schedule to the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. As will be seen from the explanation of the method adopted, this is a somewhat arbitrary process, and even the gross registered tonnage affords little indication of the actual size of the ship, whilst the under-deck and net tonnages are still less in accord with the extreme dimensions.

As to length for tonnage, the measurements start with the tonnage deck, which in vessels with less than three decks is the upper, and in vessels of three or more decks is the second from below. The length for tonnage is measured in a straight line along this deck from the inside of the inner plank at the bow to the inside of the inner plank at the stern, making allowance for the rake, if any, which the midship bow and stern timbers may have in the actual deck. When this is measured it is apparent into which of five classes the ship's tonnage-length places her. If she be under 50 ft. in length she falls into the first class, while if she be over 225 ft. in length she falls into the fifth class, the remaining three classes being intermediate to these. Vessels of the first class are measured as in four equal sections, and vessels of the larger class as in twelve equal sections, according to their length. Then at each of the points of division so marked off transverse areas are taken. This is done by measuring the depth in feet from a point at a distance of onethird of the round of the beam below the tonnage deck to the upper side of the floor timbers. Where the vessel has a ceiling and no water-ballast tanks at the point of measurement, 22 in. is allowed for ceiling. But where there are such tanks the measurement is taken from the top of the tank and no allowance is made for ceiling, whether there in fact be any or not. If the midship depth so found exceeds 16 ft., each depth is divided into six equal parts, and the horizontal breadths are measured at each point of division and also at the upper and lower points of the depth, extending each measurement to the average thickness of that part of the ceiling which is between the points of measurement. They are then numbered from above, and the second, fourth and sixth multiplied by four, whilst the third and fifth are multiplied by two. The products are then added together. To the sum are added the first and the seventh breadths. This total having been multiplied by one-third the common interval between the breadths, the resultant is the transverse area. The transverse areas so obtained at each point of the vessel's length are numbered from the bow aft. Omitting the first and last, the second and every even area so obtained are multiplied by four, whilst the third and every odd area are multiplied by two. These products are added together, as are also those of the first and last areas if they yield anything, and the figure thus reached is multiplied by one-third of the common interval between the areas. This product is reckoned as the cubical capacity of the ship in feet. When divided by roc) the result is the registered under-deck tonnage of the ship - subject to the additions and deductions ordered by the act. Directions of a kind similar to those already set out are given whereby the tonnage in the space enclosed between the tonnage and upper decks may be ascertained, and also for the measuring of any break, poop or other permanent closed-in space on the upper deck available for stores, and the sum of the capacity of these must be added to the under-deck tonnage to arrive at the gross registered tonnage. But an express proviso is enacted that no addition shall be made in respect of any building erected for the shelter of deck passengers and approved by the board of trade. In the process of arriving at the net tonnage the main deduction allowed from the gross tonnage is that of machinery space in steamships. The method of measurement here is similar to that by which the under-deck tonnage is reached. Where the engines and boilers are fitted in separate compartments, each compartment is measured separately, as is the screw shaft tunnel in the case of steamships propelled by screws. The tonnage of these spaces is reckoned, not from the tonnage deck, but from the crown of the space; whilst, if it has previously been reckoned in the gross tonnage, there may be an allowance for the space above the crown, if enclosed for the machinery or for the admission of light and air. Allowances are only made in respect of any machinery space if it be devoted solely to machinery or to light and air. It must not be used for cargo purposes or for cabins. Further, by the act itself in the case of paddle steamships, where the machinery space is above 20% and under 30% of the gross tonnage, it is allowed to be reckoned as 37% of such gross tonnage; whilst similarly, in the case of screw steamships, where such machinery space is over 13% and under 20% of the gross tonnage, it is allowed to be reckoned as 32%. Further deductions are also made in respect of space used solely for the accommodation of the master and the crew, and for the chart-room and signal-room, as well as for the wheelhouse and chain cable locker and for the donkey-engine and boiler, if connected with the main pumps of the ship, and in sailing vessels for the sail locker. The space in the double bottom and in the water-ballast tanks, if these be not available for the carriage of fuel stores or cargo, is also deducted if it has been reckoned in the gross tonnage in the first instance.

From the rules above laid down it follows that it is possible for vessels, if built with a full midship section, to have a gross registered tonnage considerably below what the actual cubical capacity of the ship would give, whilst in the case of steam tugs of high power it is not unprecedented, owing to the large allowances for machinery and crew spaces, for a vessel to have a registered net tonnage of nil.

Suez Canal dues being charged on what is practically the registered tonnage (though all deductions permitted by the British board of trade are not accepted), it is usual, at all events in the British navy, for warships to be measured for what would be their registered tonnage if they were merchant ships, so that in case they may wish to pass through the canal a scale of payment may be easily reached. But such tonnage is never spoken of in considering their size relative to other vessels.

Two other tonnages are also made use of in connexion with merchant ships, especially when specifications for vessels are being made. The first of these is measurement capacity. This is found by measuring out the true cubic capacity of the holds, whereby it is found what amount of light measurement goods can be carried. The second is deadweight capacity. This is generally given as excluding what is carried in the coal bunkers, and it is therefore the amount of deadweight which can be carried in the holds at load draught when the vessel is fully charged with coals and stores. (B. W. G.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also tonnage



From French tonnage


Tonnage f. (genitive Tonnage, plural Tonnagen)

  1. tonnage


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