Money and Markets

A second mate explains how cargo ships 'race to anchor' outside backlogged ports

Business Insider US
Touring the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Second mate Bryan Boyle explained the supply-chain crisis from a mariner's perspective.
  • Cargo ships at some ports race to anchor and reserve spots in lines that can span weeks.
  • Boyle describes how cargo ships vie for spots in line in a YouTube video.
  • For more stories go to

A merchant marine said the shipping crisis has turned leisurely trips between nearby ports into races.

Second mate Bryan Boyle said in a YouTube video that efforts to get into ports have become increasingly competitive between different cargo ships, as they vie for spots in line off the coast of several key ports. What was once a carefully scheduled process has become a "race to anchor" for some.

"The ports are so far behind schedule that many, like Savannah and Houston, have begun using a first come, first serve policy," Boyle told Insider. "In the past, when ships were going between nearby ports they'd slow down to save on fuel and they'd be able to go right in without even having to anchor. Now, it's about dropping the hook as soon as possible so you can get in the rotation to wait for about another two weeks, maybe more."

Boyle has been operating as relief for cargo ship crew in ports near Charleston and Savannah for the past few weeks - meaning he takes on part of the ship's watch rotation and assists with cargo operations so that the crew can avoid rest hour violations.

In his video, he breaks down the supply-chain crisis while aboard a Maersk cargo ship that waited outside the Port of Savannah for 10 days.

The video shows glimpses of the ship docked in the port, as well as the terminal itself, as trucks line up to pick up shipping containers.

The ports aren't the only part of the supply chain that is facing major backlogs. Nearby warehouses are also running out of space to hold goods, as consumer demand surges at the same time that the industry combats labor shortages.

"Even when we finally get into port and get the cargo off the ships, there's nowhere to store it all," Boyle told Insider.

In his video, Boyle said the delays come at a price.

"It's definitely having an impact on the environment," Boyle said in the video. "We're burning more fuel to get here and ships are also operating at higher speeds to make up lost time crossing the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean."

Delays are also generating higher price tags for shipping companies, as the carriers are forced to pay higher food, fuel, and crew costs because ships are taking longer on each trip, Boyle said. He told Insider that some companies, including Hapag Llyod, have opted to skip backlogged harbors like the Port of Savannah as a result.

Since Boyle's video, wait times at the Port of Savannah appear to have decreased slightly, according to data from port's site. 18 cargo ships were waiting to dock outside of the port as of Wednesday, as opposed to the about 27 cargo ships outside of the port when Boyle filmed his video.

The Port of Savannah is one of many ports that is facing historic backlogs. On Wednesday, the nation's largest ports broke another record as 111 ships waited off the coast of Southern California to dock and unload. Prior to the pandemic, the most ships the ports had ever sent to anchor had been 17, Kip Louttit, head of the Marine Exchange, previously told Insider.

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