From Ships to Your Shelves

Maritime Commerce Delivers Goods Safely and Reliably

NOAA’s navigational tools help commercial mariners navigate the U.S. Marine Transportation System.

NOAA’s navigational tools help commercial mariners navigate the U.S. Marine Transportation System.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Did you know that nearly all of the products that Americans expect to find on store shelves come to us by way of the U.S. marine transportation system? This intricate system of ocean shipping lanes, rivers, canals, and dams is traversed daily by container ships and barges that deliver cargo to U.S. ports.

By weight, these “marine highways” carry more than 77 percent of all U.S. merchandise. Waterborne commerce is a major part of the U.S. economy, as it contributes more than $1 trillion to our gross domestic product and generates more than 13 million jobs.

NOAA’s Tools for Mariners

Since most commercial vessel accidents are attributed to human error, it is important that mariners rely on NOAA’s Navigation Services to drive their ships through our nation’s waterways. NOAA’s nautical charts function like road maps for navigators, portraying dangerous depths and obstructions that could cause a wreck or ship grounding. NOAA’s tides and currents information and highly accurate positioning help keep the marine transportation system operating safely and efficiently.

When accidents or natural disasters block or close our waterways for safety reasons, NOAA is there to help. Special navigation teams respond quickly to survey harbors and channels for sunken vessels, obstructions, and alternate routes for military and commercial ships.

Our economy depends on the steady flow of goods in and out of our nation's ports.

Our economy depends on the steady flow of goods in and out of our nation's ports.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA Stays Ahead of Maritime Commerce Growth

Our economy — the foundation of our national security — depends on the uninterrupted flow of goods. To ensure that our marine transportation system is the world’s safest, most efficient, and environmentally sound, NOAA is a lead agency for the Committee on the Marine Transportation System — the president’s cabinet-level interagency committee.

NOAA and its committee partners recently proposed a national strategy to improve and enhance our marine transportation system. The objective is to take steps now so that the system can grow with increased ship traffic and demand while remaining safe and efficient. NOAA logo.