What is the Draft of a Cruise Ship? (and Why Does it Matter?)

Knowing the draft of a cruise ship can be useful in various ways.

The draft of a cruise is a factor in what ports a particular cruise ship can dock at.  In the case of river cruises, it determines what rivers and canals they can navigate safely.

What Is the Draft of a Cruise Ship?

The draft of a cruise ship is the vertical distance from the bottom of the ship at its lowest point up to the waterline level.  It is usually up to 30 feet on a cruise ship or 10% of the ship’s height.  This is considered relatively low when compared to other ship types.

What is a Ship Draft?

The draft of a cruise ship is important because a larger draft would limit the number of ports to which the ship could safely visit.

Usually, the larger the ship, the larger the draft, but this also depends on the ship type.  Cruise ships have Relatively small draughts compared to similar in-length cargo ships. 

The opposite measurement is for “air draft.”  This measures the distance from the waterline to the ship’s highest point.

Why is the Draft of a Ship Important?

The draft of a cruise ship is essential because it determines which ports it can access.  If the draft is too excessive and deeper than the port depth, the bottom of the cruise ship will contact the surface of the port floor.  

The lower the draft of a cruise ship, the more ports it can dock at.   Therefore the more commercially viable the ship is because it can potentially visit more exotic locations, for example, many more in the Caribbean.

Smaller cruise ships with a draft of between 5 to 7 meters (16.4ft to 23ft) can dock at smaller ports that their larger counterparts cannot. 

This gives them a broad scope to visit a wider range of ports of call that some of the most well-known mega cruise ships do not get to visit.

How is the Draft of a Ship Measured?

It is measured to the lowest point of a ship, typically the keel on a cruise ship, but on some vessels, the lowest level might be propellers, rudders, or drop keels.
The draft of a cruise ship is essentially the ship’s hull which sinks beneath the waterline once the ship has been launched into the water.

Draft of a ship in water

Draft of Largest Cruise Ships

Below we have put together a table of the largest cruise ships in the world by gross tonnage and their draft.

As you can see, most of the drafts roughly correspond with the size of the ship, with a couple of exceptions which we cover below.

Ship NameYearGross TonnageDraft
Wonder of the Seas 2022236,8579.32 m / 30.6 ft
Symphony of the Seas2018228,0819.32 m / 30.6 ft
Harmony of the Seas2016226,9639.32 m / 30.6 ft
Oasis of the Seas2008226,8389.32 m / 30.6 ft
Allure of the Seas2010225,2829.32 m / 30.6 ft
MSC World Europa2022215,863
Costa Smeralda2019185,0108.8 m / 28.10 ft
Costa Toscana2021185,010
P&O Iona2020184,08911.8m / 38.9 ft
AIDAnova2018183,8588.8 m / 28.10 ft
MSC Grandiosa2019181,541
MSC Virtuosa2020181,541
Carnival Mardi Gras2020180,000
MSC Meraviglia2017171,5988.75 m / 28.8 ft
MSC Bellissima2019171,5988.75 m / 28.7 ft
MSC Seashore2021170,412
Odyssey of the Seas2021167,7048.73 m / 28.8 ft
Spectrum of the Seas2019169,3798.8 m / 29 ft
Norwegian Encore2019169,1168.7 m 28.6 ft
Quantum of the Seas2014168,1668.8 m / 29 ft
Anthem of the Seas2015168,6668.8 m / 29 ft
Ovation of the Seas2016168,6668.5 m / 27.11 ft
Norwegian Bliss2018168,0288.7 m / 28.5 ft
Norwegian Joy2017167,7258.7 m / 28.6 ft
Norwegian Escape2015165,1578.6 m / 28.3 ft
Freedom of the Seas2006156,2719m / 29.6 ft
Liberty of the Seas2007155,8899 m / 29.6 ft
Independence of the Seas2008155,8898.8 m / 29 ft
Norwegian Epic2010155,8738.7 m / 28.6 ft
MSC Seaview2018153,5168.55 m / 28.1 ft
MSC Seaside2017153,5168.55 / 28.1 ft
Queen Mary 2 (Cunard)2004151,21510.3 m 33.8 ft

The two exceptions in regards to draft to size of ship size are P&O Iona and Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.

Both these vessels have proportionally larger drafts in relation to the ships weight.

What is the Average Draft of a Cruise Ship?

On average, cruise ships have a draft equivalent to 10% of the full height of the vessel.  The taller the cruise ship, the larger the draft.

What if the Draught is Too Large for the Port?

If a cruise ship’s draft is too large for a port, it can lie offshore and ferry passengers to the port.

What is the Draft of a Cargo Ship?

The draft of a container ship is deeper than that of a cruise ship.

Taking the world’s largest container ship by weight as an example, the Evergreen A-class container ships, which have a gross tonnage on par with the largest Royal Caribbean cruise ships, of around 230,000 gross tonnages.

The Oasis-class Royal Caribbean ships have a draft of 9.3 m or 30.6 ft compared to 17 m or 55.9 ft for the largest cargo ships.  Almost twice the draft.

What was the Draft of the Titanic?

The draught of the Titanic was 34 feet 7 inches or 10.54 meters.  Given that the Titanic was considerably smaller than many of today’s modern cruise ships at 30 feet, its draft is slightly larger.  This is because it was designed for traveling in rougher sea conditions, over long distances and at faster speeds.

Draft Marks

Draft marks are marked on either side of the bow and stern and can be used to measure the current draft level of the ship in the water.

Shallow Ports

Some ports may have shallow areas where the water is not deep enough for the cruise ship, but other areas may be ok.

In these instances, a local maritime pilot will be sent out to guide the cruise ship through the deepest channels in the port, avoiding any higher surfaces below the water, such as rocks, mounds of sand, or wrecks.  

The maritime pilot is a trained expert in the conditions and water levels of the port waters.

The draft marks would be continually indicating the current draft level of the ship so the maritime pilot will know the depth of the cruise ship at all times and will guide the ship accordingly through the deeper water channels.

A ship with a deeper draft like (did the Titanic have a deeper draft) or the Queen Mary enables a ship to move at faster speeds and through rougher sea conditions.

Also, this extra speed is at the expense of extra fuel consumption and therefore cost.

What Cruise Ship Has The Deepest Draft

The cruise ship with the deepest draft is that of P&O Iona, coming at 11.8m, 38.9 ft.

Cunard’s Queen Mary has a relatively larger draft, compared to the 30 or so large cruise ships by gross tonnage.  Its draft is 10.3m or 33.8 ft.

Both are larger than the largest Royal Caribbean Lines cruises ships, which, although larger vessels, have smaller drafts of 9.3m, 30.6 ft.

A ship with a deeper draft is usually designed with rougher seas and faster speeds in mind.

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