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The world's waterways—from inland lakes and rivers to oceans and seas—carry goods and people worldwide. Freighters and container ships move cargo; tankers move oil; roll-on/roll-off ships move cars and other vehicles; and cruise ships carry people to far-flung destinations. Unless you live near ocean ports or busy riverways, you might not realize the reach of impact of this business sector, also called the maritime industry.

As of 2014, the U.S. was the world's largest importer of containerized cargo and its second largest exporter, behind China, according to the World Shipping Council. Liner shipping was estimated to contribute about $183.3 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and support 4.2 million jobs. Those numbers jumped to $436.6 billion and 13.5 million when indirect contributions are factored in. In 2015, about 82 percent of U.S. exports were transported by water and 90 percent of the worlds trade is carried by sea.

In the U.S. shipping industry, cargo is transported on America's domestic waterways and on international waters among U.S. holdings and territories. Deep-sea foreign shipping of general cargo, and dry and liquid bulk is part of the U.S. shipping industry as well.

Employment in water transportation occupations is expected to grow by about 9 percent through 2024, which is faster than the average, as the economy recovers. New types of ships requiring smaller crews and increased use of foreign companies for international shipping may limit growth in some branches of the industry. Although shipping overseas faces special challenges such as bad weather and piracy, it remains one of the greenest and least expensive means of moving goods around the world.