Tendered or Docked? How Cruise Ships Get You Ashore


When most people imagine a cruise ship docking, they probably picture it sliding into an illustrious port, before a gangway is lowered to allow its passengers to disembark. But what happens when there is no port, or it’s just too small to safely accommodate the massive mega liners sailing atop the great blue these days?

Those who have never been on an ocean cruise may be surprised to learn this happens a lot in the world of cruising. Cruise ships have outgrown many ports across the world, raising the question — just how do they transport passengers ashore? After all, the demand to visit these smaller destinations hasn’t gone away.

The answer? It all depends on the type of transfer, and there are two systems cruise lines use to get passengers back on to dry land: docking and tendering. Here we talk you through both, so you know what to expect on your next trip on the open ocean.



Docking is the most common and traditional form of debarkation, and it’s one even the most ardent landlubber will recognise. When a ship can be accommodated in a port, it will dock alongside a pier and be tethered securely until a new batch of passengers is safely stowed away aboard. To transport passengers from ship to shore, a ramp or gangplank is used to bridge the gap across the harbour — allowing passengers to cross without delay.

The docking procedure is considered the safest and most reliable form of debarkation, largely because the ship is able to enter a calm harbour deep enough to accommodate its hull. It’s also the fastest way to get passengers in and off the ship, so cruise lines tend to favour ports with full docking facilities from a cost and administrative prospective.

The global growth in cruising is leading to increased investment at smaller ports, particularly in Australia, where many destinations suffer from small harbours not equipped to house large ocean liners. Smaller port destinations such as Mooloolaba and Cairns can benefit from building larger berthing areas for cruise ships, allowing the biggest ships to dock and let their passengers come ashore and spend in the area.



The second form of debarkation used by many cruise lines to solve the small port problem is tendering. Tendering occurs when a harbour is too small to accommodate a vessel, or else the water isn’t deep enough for it to gain access closer to shore. The process involves the ship dropping anchor a few miles from shore, before deploying a smaller vessel to ferry passengers ashore.

Unfortunately, tendering isn’t a perfect solution, and can be dangerous in some circumstances. For a ship to tender passengers effectively it needs to get reasonably close to shore, and this can cause problems in shallower waters. Also, if the weather is bad, tendering can be very dangerous — forcing some ships to skip port calls altogether.

And the problems with tendering don’t stop there. The practice raises issues for those with limited mobility, as there are often numerous steps down to the second vessel. Also, because tenders can only carry a certain number of passengers at a time, this can lead to overcrowding by the gangways when debarking the ship.

But putting these problems aside, most tendered dockings go off without a hitch, and afford passengers access to a range of destinations not previously enjoyed by cruise guests. An example of when cruise ships will normally tender passengers ashore is during visits to Kangaroo Island, whose harbour is too small to accommodate the largest liners.

Now that you know how cruise lines get you to and from their ships, don’t you think it’s high time you booked a cruise holiday? For a selection of affordable cruise deals visit the Cruise1st Australia homepage, or call us on 1300 857 345.

Image credits: Yorick, Prayitno


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