HomePorts And ShippingWhat is a RORO Ship? Car Carrier Use and Detailed Explanation

What is a RORO Ship? Car Carrier Use and Detailed Explanation

There are different types of ships available for commercial purposes. Out of which, RORO ships are used to transport wheeled cargo like, cars, vans, trucks, and busses. In another word, wheeled cargo such as automobiles, trucks, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, or railroad cars that are driven on and off the ship on their own wheels. Also partially mobile equipment like trailers.

RORO stands for ROLL ON ROLL OFF. The name RORO is used to define these ships, as there is a ramp that uses to drive through vehicles in and out of the ship. There are pure car and Truck careers (PCTC) or Pure Car Careers (PCC) designed only to carry vehicles. While there are ships to carry vehicles along with other types of cargo like containers. Container and vehicle carrying ships are called CONRO.  Generally, a PCTC RORO ship has two ramps. One is at the stern (Backside) of the vessel and one is on the port/starboard side. There are ships with triple ramps use in short sea RORO operations.

RORO ships became popular during World War II to transport military equipment. The use of the RORO concept in merchant ships started in the late 1940s, early 1950s, mainly in short-sea routes.

Car Carriers have several decks to load vehicles. In today’s context, RORO ships have adjustable decks to utilize the onboard space efficiently.

Types of RORO Ships

  • Ferries
  • Freight
  • Ro-Pax
  • Pure Car Carriers
  • Combined carriers
    • Container Ro/Ro
    • RoRo LoLo

CONRO: Container ROLL ON ROLL OFF. These vessels are designed to carry both containers and cargo of RORO ship.  Below deck areas of these ships are utilized to stack vehicles and on deck area is used to stack containers.


ROLO: stands for ROLL ON LIFT OFF. This is a hybrid vessel type with ramps serving vehicle decks but with other cargo decks accessible only by crane.

LMSR: LMSR are specialized vehicle carrying types. These ships are designed to carry military cargo. LMSR stands for Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off.  There are several classes of Military Sealift Command (MSC) roll-on/roll-off type cargo ships.


ROPAX: ROPAX stands for ROLL ON ROLL OFF PASSENGERS. These RORO vessels use to transport freight vehicles along with passenger accommodation.


Large scale vehicle transportation is done using Pure Car Careers (PCC) or Pure Car Truck Carrier (PCTC).

With the concepts of the sustainable shipping industry, there are RORO ships built to propel with Solar power, LNG, electricity, or hybrid sources. Shipyards are keen on future fuel techniques when constructing car carriers. The world’s biggest RORO carriers are not only leading the RORO sector in capacity but also with the high efficiency fuel usage and built towards Carbon neutral and sustainable shipping.

Why RORO Ships?

RORO ships are safe to transport fully/partially mobilized cargo, and static cargo. This is due to stowage plans being prepared to maximize space utilization and cargo are stowed under the upper deck protecting them from external sources like weather while on the sea. Since these vehicles are driven through ramps for loading and discharging, no lifting will be involved. Cargo carry on a RORO categorized under three main sections as Vehicles, High & Heavy and, Static or General Cargo. General cargo carries on RORO ships also known as packages. Since these static cargo are not self-driven, they require external aids to move them. For such purposes, trailers are used with a self driven head like MAFI.


How to Measure the RORO Ship’s Capacity

In general, cargo is measured by the metric tonne for shipping purposes. Yet, RORO cargo is typically measured in units of ‘lanes in meters’ (LIMs). Lanes meters or lane meter is calculated by multiplying cargo length in meters by the number of decks and by its width in lanes.  The width of a lane could differ from vessel to vessel and there are several industry standards on that.

Who Operate RORO Ships?

Same as other ships like containers, cruises there are shipping lines into the RORO business. Few major giant Roll-On-Roll-Off operators are Hyundai Glovis, MOL (Mitsui O.S.K. Lines), NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha), K-Line (Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, Ltd), Grimaldi Line, Hoegh Auto Liner, and Wilhelmsen. These lines have their own ships or chartered ships to run under their name. Some vessels are purely utilized to transport their own cargo while some vessels carry cargo of different vehicle manufactures. For example, Hyundai Glovis use their RORO fleet mainly to carry Hyundai and Kia branded vehicles.

What is Deep Sea and Short Sea RORO Shipping?

Deep Sea RORO shipping is a term used to describe the transportation of RORO cargo across the ocean. This means carrying cargo on intercontinental routes. The hub ports or transshipment ports use to move cargo in deep sea shipping.

 Short Sea routes refer to carrying cargo in the same territorial water Or in short distances. This is also called SSS and stands to describe the opposite of deep sea shipping. Short sea shipping uses to consolidate or redistribute cargo to or from deep sea shipping and send them to ports in the same water.

Deep sea and Short sea shipping concepts are not only applicable to RORO, but also to any cargo type.


Pure Car Carriers are handy in many ways to its users.

Vehicles are driven through the ramp, so the operation is speedy.

Due to fewer cargo handling movements involved (Only necessary to drive the vehicles, no lifting involved), safer operation.

Faster turnaround time of ships enabling less time at ports and fewer port charges.

Stowage Plan of a RORO Ship

The stowage plan of a ship is always prepared to utilize the maximum capacity of the deck along with high safety for cargo as well as to the ship. Generally, vehicles are loaded onboard considering the destination of the vehicle. This is to avoid additional vehicle movements when discharging the vehicles and to avoid unnecessary charges at ports on cargo handling. Hence, the cargo bound to discharge at the 1st stop port will be loaded at the front and the last port’s cargo at a corner or an upper deck not to obstacle other cargo. Below are a few points to remember on the RORO stowage plan.

Deck space should be fully utilized in an effective manner.

Special instructions of the shipper should be followed when preparing the stowage plan.

Keep a safe distance between vehicles to avoid accidents.

Stowed vehicles should not become a bottleneck to emergency exits or control rooms.

A stowage plan should be prepared by minimizing additional vehicle movements which obstacle the actual discharging units at a port.

Proper lashing materials should be provided to tie the vehicles onboard.

What is a RORO Ship? Car Carrier Use and Detailed Explanation
Inside look of s RORO Ship

How Vehicles Park Onboard?

You may be wondering on how the vehicles carry on a ship without damaging them. Obviously, when you have ordered a brand new vehicle, you will not be ready to accept a damaged vehicle. To make sure cargo onboard is secured, both shipping lines and seaports do a hard job!

Generally, the vehicle stowage plan is prepared by the shipping line, Of course, the Chief Officer of the ship has a big say in the stowage plan. He is responsible for loading cargo without harming the stability of the ship. Once the approved stowage plan is shared with the loading seaport, the port will arrange stevedores for cargo loading/discharging operation. Unlike in other cargo operations, there will be two sets of drivers known as stevedores to drive the vehicles from the ship. One set of drivers contain the most experienced or skilled drivers.

Normally, vehicles park with a 5-10 cm buffer to buffer distance onboard as well as at yards. This is to utilize the available space efficiently. Hence, when taking a vehicle from the parked slot, the driver has to be extra careful not to hit the vehicle on another. The most skilled drivers drive the vehicle from its parked location to a few centimeters ahead to separate the vehicle from a vehicle slot. This is called “Break Out”. Once the vehicle breaks out drivers from another set of stevedores drive the vehicle to the yard and park it at the allocated location.

What is a RORO Ship? Car Carrier Use and Detailed Explanation
This image shows how vehicles are lashed onboard

Driving a vehicle inside the ship decks is not an easy task!. Stevedores do a great job of driving the vehicle safely. And there are stevedores called as “Signal Man”. They support drivers being their eye to see the surrounding of the vehicle when breaking them out. Because drivers cannot open the shutters or unfold side mirrors of the vehicle. They drive the vehicle as per the instruction given by the signalman.

Once vehicles are parked onboard by the drivers with the support of signalman, Vehicles should lash so they won’t move while on water.  There are lashmen to do the lashing. Lashmen lash the vehicles to the lashing points on decks. There are a lot of guidelines on lashing from a selection of lashing material to lashing points to make sure vehicles won’t get damaged during the operation.

Did you Know?? Stevedores of car carriers cannot wear watches, rings, or any other accessories as they could make scratches on the vehicle’s body.

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