Demystifying Shipping and Freight Jargon : The “ET” files

Clarifying, clearing (up), construing, demonstrating, elucidating, explaining, explicating, expounding, getting across, illuminating, illustrating, interpreting, simplifying, spelling out, unriddling, deciphering, decoding, analyzing, breaking down, disentangling, undoing, unraveling, unscrambling, untangling, resolving, solving, defining, specifying, annotating, commentating, glossing

These are all words either meaning or related to the term “demystifying”..

Demystifying actually means “to make plain or understandable” and this was the prime objective and reason why Shipping and Freight Academy was started..

Shipping and Freight Jargon

There is a lot of shipping and freight jargon in the industry as more and more new terminologies fog up the already fogged up mind of Joe Public and more so in the recent past since “supply chain” has become a household name..

There will be several articles demystifying shipping and freight jargon, in addition to maritime, logistics, supply chain, and trade jargon (some may consider these terms themselves to be jargon) in the coming weeks/months.. If you don’t know the difference between these terms, then you should read this article first “Difference between Maritime, Shipping, Freight, Logistics and Supply Chain“..


This installment of “Demystifying Shipping and Freight Jargon” is about The “ET” files..


ETA, ETB, ETC, ETD, and ETS are some of the abbreviations you might have seen on emails, announcements, websites, and liner shipping schedules from the shipping lines or your logistics service providers..

The ET in these terms stands for “Estimated Time” and is commonly used to denote when an event/milestone is expected to happen.. While these events are used by customers to follow up on their shipments, these events are used more importantly by the shipping line, port, immigration, customs, health, and other stakeholders in the operational chain for the handling of a ship..

ETA = Estimated Time of Arrival

ETA = Estimated Time of Arrival – is one of the most commonly used ET events and denotes the date and time at which a ship is expected to arrive at anchorage, port, berth, or terminal..

ETA is the date that you see in ocean shipping schedules circulated by shipping lines or information provided to the port.. The below example from ZIM Line schedule shows the ETA detail of ships on a particular service..

As per below, the ETA of Trf Partici at Valencia port is on the 14th of August 2022..

ETA in schedule
Image : ZIM Line

Based on this ETA information, customers, their freight forwarders, or agents can plan the customs clearance for the shipment, secure delivery order, ensure that all documentation is in order for the prompt delivery of the container, place transport orders with their hauliers, so they are able to keep trucks and trailers ready to pick up the containers on arrival..

ETA information is critical to the customer to ensure that everything is made ready from their end to ensure that the container does not incur demurrage, detention, or storage.. This ETA information is usually conveyed to the customer by the shipping line using their Cargo Arrival Notification..

cargo arrival notification - shipping and freight jargon
Image : Maersk

Customs, Immigration, and Health officials also follow the ETA of the ship with interest in order to monitor any regulatory issues they may have been following for the particular ship, ship crew or medical cargo that may be on board..

The ETA generally refers to the arrival of the ship within the port area/jurisdiction. It does NOT mean that the ship has actually arrived at the port and must not be construed that the ship is available for cargo operations..

ETB = Estimated Time of Berthing

The ETA of the ship is followed by ETB which means Estimated Time of Berthing which is the date and time at which a ship is expected to berth at a port/terminal..

The term ETB is a piece of key operational information for stakeholders involved in the actual cargo operation of the ship such as

  • stevedores (longshoremen),
  • truckers coming to collect hazardous cargo on direct delivery basis,
  • surveyors employed to survey cargo discharge,
  • ship repair companies who need to carry out critical repairs to the ship,
  • ship chandlers who have received orders from the ship for the replenishment of ship stores (groceries and other supplies) and
  • many others whose work can commence only once the ship berths physically..

Some of the shipping line schedules show the ETB of the ship along with ETA and other information as per the below example..

estimated time of berth in schedule
Image : Maersk

From this schedule, you can see the date/time at which a ship is expected to arrive at the port (ETA) and the time at which the ship is expected to berth (ETB).. The time frames shown in the above schedule may not be practical as in many cases, it may take more than an hour for the ship to berth from the time it arrives, but it is also possible that in the most optimistic of situations, a ship can proceed to berth directly without waiting at anchorage..

But it must be understood that the “ET” terms are just “indications” given by the shipping lines and the above also shows that sometimes mistakes can happen in ship schedule notifications by shipping lines.. In the above, at Algeciras, the ship appears to be berthing a day before it arrives..

Here is another example of a schedule with the ETB and ETA shown..

ETB - ETD in schedule
Image : Hapag Lloyd

ETC = Estimated Time of Completion 

ETC is not used as commonly as ETA and ETB (at least publicly).. ETC is also an important metric for operational teams as there are several processes that are involved before the ship sails and the ETC will help them with planning these processes.. This term is usually seen in arrival reports sent to ship owners..

This date/time indicates when the cargo operations are expected to be completed for a particular ship at a berth.. Sometimes ships may be required to work at different berths within the same port and the ETC information will help the operations team to determine the ETA of the ship at the next berth and make arrangements for berthing the ship in that port suitably..

ETD = Estimated Time of Departure

Is the next important ET metric in the shipping process which denotes the date and time at which a ship is expected to depart from a certain port/terminal.. This term is usually seen in arrival reports sent to ship owners and also in shipping schedules circulated by shipping lines or information provided to/by the port..

Here is an example of a schedule by DP World for their own operational information..

ETD in Schedule - shipping and freight jargon
Image : DP World

ETD is important

  1. for the current port to advise the berth allocation to the next ship in the queue (which becomes that ship’s ETB)
  2. for the next port to understand the ETA of the ship at their port and prepare for the same

In the same way, ETA is important for import customers to know when their cargo will arrive, and ETD is important for export customers to know when their goods will leave the country.. Based on the ETD, they can plan their export documentation plans such as when to pick up the original bill of lading, submitting trade documentation to the banks for the negotiation of documentary credits such as Letter of Credits etc..

ETS = Estimated Time of Sailing 

Although used interchangeably in certain circles, ETS is different from ETD in that, the ETD denotes the departure of the ship from the berth or terminal, but might still be floating around at anchorage due to reasons such as repairs, inspections, expired certificates, or ship stores that they can still receive at anchorage or awaiting crew change etc..

Here is a practical example to consider from the Port of New York/New Jersey.. So here, the ships that have “returned to anchorage” may be considered to have departed the berth, but have not sailed yet from the port area.. Of course, whether the shipping line considers the ship as having departed or sailed from the berth depends on how their operational process works..

While the optics of many container ships waiting at anchor “kills me,” their presence is not a true reflection of the seaport’s operations. It’s important to track them individually because many factors go into why a ship keeps waiting or returns to wait at the anchorage that has nothing to do with the port and everything to do with the ocean carrier that owns the ships and determines their schedule.” said Bethann Rooney, director of the Port Department at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey..

As per Rooney, in recent months, container ships have called on the seaport, then returned to Ambrose anchorage, opting to wait there rather than move to the next scheduled port if there is a long wait at the next destination..

One ocean carrier decided to keep three of its ships at the anchorage despite available space, to get them back on schedule after a buildup of delays,” said Rooney, likening it to a bus driver waiting longer at a stop to avoid being too early at his next stop..

ETS is the final act when the ship is expected to finally sail from the port where it just completed operations..


As you can see, there are several terms in the ET series which has their own importance in various activities.. It has to be also noted that for each ET, there is also an AT which means “Actual Time” which can be correlated as below:

  1. ETA – ATA (Actual Time of Arrival)
  2. ETB – ATB (Actual Time of Berthing)
  3. ETC – ATC (Actual Time of Completion)
  4. ETD – ATD (Actual Time of Departure)
  5. ETS – ATS (Actual Time of Sailing)

The AT terms and information are used in port and ship operation reports and are a crucial timeline required by the chartering desks of the ship charterer and ship owners to calculate various factors relating to the operation and costing of the ship which is a topic for another day..

The difference in timeframe between the ATA and ATB and ATB and ATD is also used by data service providers to track and report port congestion and ship dwell times at the various ports respectively..

Suffice it to say that although seemingly innocuous, there are several shipping and freight jargon like the ET terms which are quite important in the industry for the various stakeholders to plan their shipping and trade activities..

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