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10 Largest Ports in the US

A port in the US for your shipments to and from the US with Shipa Freight
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Updated on 01 Jul 20228 min read

A port in the US for your shipments to and from the US with Shipa Freight

To this day, cargo ships remain the most reliable way of transporting goods both nationally and internationally. They also play a large role in the United States economy as well as the global economy.

Thanks to its booming port industry, the US also happens to be home to the seventh biggest trade economy in the world, with some of the largest ports accounting for 89.9 percent of all global imports and exports.

In this article, we’ve rounded up the 10 largest ports in the US and ranked them in order by their combined outbound and inbound TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). TEUs are used to measure volume, which correlates to cargo-carrying capacity.

1. Port of Los Angeles

TEUs: 9,079,561

The Port of Los Angeles in California, also referred to as America’s Port is the largest port in the US. It joins with the Port of Long Beach to form an entire port complex. This makes LA one of the busiest US cargo ports for Transpacific trade and a critical center for business investment.

​​The port complex occupies 7,500 acres (3,000 ha; 11 sq mi) of land and water along 43 miles (69 km) of the waterfront. It is a major container ship facility and is the only deepwater port in Southern California capable of accommodating a fully laden super post-Panamax vessel.

2. Port of Long Beach

TEUs: 7,884,565

The Port of Long Beach, which is the Harbor Department of the City of Long Beach, California, is known for its environmentally sustainable and safety operations. With six terminals accounting for $180 billion in annual trade movement, Long Beach is the second busiest port in the US.

The Port of Long Beach was established in 1909 with the goal of becoming an important commercial harbor for goods being shipped to local markets and beyond. It has since become an important seaport in its own right and a key port of entry for goods to the United States from abroad. In 2015, the Port of Long Beach ranked as the 7th busiest container port in the world after Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Ningbo-Zhoushan, Guangzhou.

3. Port of New Jersey and New York

TEUs: 7,455,786

The Port of (Newark) New Jersey and New York makes up the largest port on the east coast. It’s also one of the largest natural harbors in the entire world. This port is responsible for handling commodities including scrap metal, breakbulk cargo, and petroleum.

The port includes terminals along a hundred-mile stretch of the river from Upper New York Bay south to Elizabeth, New Jersey. It encompasses fifteen cargo ports that handle container shipping, general cargo, and passengers in a variety of terminals situated in the municipalities of Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Bayonne, and Staten Island. Until 1971, it was known as the Port of New York Authority.

4. Port of Savannah

TEUs: 4,682,255

The Port of Savannah along with the Port of Brunswick make up the state of Georgia’s primary shipping ports. The port is made up of two terminals: the Ocean City terminal and the Garden City terminal. Both are deep water terminal facilities that serve as competition to the Port of Charleston and the Port of Jacksonville in South Carolina and Florida respectively.

It is the leading container seaport on the southeastern coast of the United States and has been expanding rapidly as a major distribution point for northeast metro Atlanta. The Port of Savannah was ranked as the 4th largest import/export port in terms of shipping containers by Cargo Business News and the Georgia Ports Association.

5. Port of Norfolk

TEUs: 3,500,000

The Port of Norfolk is located in Virginia within close proximity to the Elizabeth and Lafayette Rivers. The Port of Norfolk is the largest terminal under the supervision of the Virginia Port Authority. It comprises three sections: The South Terminal, the North Terminal, and the Central Rail Yard.

From each of these sections, it only takes cargo ships around two and half hours to reach open water, making Norfolk one of the busiest ports in the US. The Port of Norfolk also has a well-connected railway that allows roughly a third of its cargo to be transported by train.

The Port of Norfolk is an important trade hub in the US with its largest trading partner being China. Due to its recent growth, it is expected that there will be an increase in ports along the waterways of North Carolina and Virginia.

6. Port of Seattle

TEUs: 3,320,379

The Port of Seattle is jointly operated with the Port of Tacoma under the Northern Seaport Alliance.

The Port of Seattle also has a terminal—terminal 86—that’s a state-of-the-art automated grain facility. This terminal is responsible for moving grain from transport vehicles to silos. From there the grain is moved to the cargo ships for international transport. The commission manages three airports, two marine cargo facilities, one cruise ship terminal, and more than 3,700 acres of industrial saltwater tidelands.

The Port of Tacoma is a deepwater terminal that can accommodate large cargo ships. Because of this, the port is able to keep congestion minimal while maintaining its shipping efficiency. The primary exports that leave the Port of Tacoma are mostly agricultural, while imports range from vehicles to toys to electrical equipment.

The port was created when it broke away from the Port of Seattle in 1993. It provides container shipping for companies like Maersk, Hanjin Shipping, Horizon Lines, and Hapag-Lloyd. The port is also known for its deepwater shipping channels. It's also home to two of the largest dry bulk cargo terminals in the country, Hanjin Bulk Transport and EGT.

7. Port of Houston

TEUs: 3,150,062

Houston, Texas is considered the top region for United States exports. This is primarily because the city is home to the largest petrochemical manufacturing complex in the US. The Port of Houston has actually seen so much growth over the years that it’s expanded the city limits, extending to the surrounding towns.

Some of Houston’s major exports include wood, fertilizers, iron and steel. However it’s primary exports are petroleum, mineral products, oils, and plastics.

8. Port of Oakland

TEUs: 2,460,000

The Port of Oakland is located in the San Francisco Bay and was the first major United States Pacific port to incorporate terminals for container ships. To this day, the Port of Oakland remains one of the busiest US cargo ports as its primary focus is on international container shipping. This port, in particular, is also considered an essential port for US agricultural exports.

Oakland handles 99% of all containerized goods moving through Northern California which amounts to $41 billion USD per year with an average of 2.3 million TEU's moved each year. Oakland is the busiest container port in the San Francisco Bay Area with a trade value of $46.06 billion USD.

9. Port of Charleston

TEUs: 2,310,000

The Port of Charleston, located in South Carolina’s oldest city, offers five public terminals, including the North Charleston Terminal, which handles around 22% of the containers that pass through the group of facilities collectively known as South Carolina Ports. The other terminals in the Port of Charleston are responsible for handling motor vehicles and cruise ships. Additionally, the Port of Georgetown is roughly 60 miles north, providing straightforward access to prime trade markets.

The port has its own free trade zone which differentiates it from many other ports. This means that goods entering and leaving the port are not subject to tariffs and can be imported and exported freely.

10. The Port of Miami

TEUs: 1,250,000

The Port of Miami is conveniently located between North and South America, making it a leading hub of tourism and global commerce. If you go by its TEUs alone, Miami is one of the largest ports in the US—although it does not compare with some of its giant counterparts like the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California.

The Port of Miami is the only southeastern seaport that is able to accommodate Neo-Panamax vessels. This is thanks to it having the deepest shipping channel of all southeastern seaports.

The Port of Miami accounts for much of metropolitan Miami's waterfront activity and handles nearly five million passengers annually. It has been constantly growing since its opening in 1925 and has added 33 new facilities and a total of seven million square feet (650,000 m²) of cargo storage space at its seaport.

The Biggest US Ports: Why Do They Matter?

The United States of America is home to some truly colossal container ports, and if your business is involved in importing to, or exporting from, the nation with the world’s largest economy, your freight is likely to pass through one of them. Large container ports can be subject to many issues due to the sheer volume of goods they handle, so it can be useful to know something about those through which you will route your merchandise.

This article, of course, serves only as an introduction to the largest container gateways, but you can jump off to the home page of each port from the links we’ve included, to keep tabs on the latest news and developments at each of them.

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