What is RoRo Cargo?

car carrier ship

Trading plays a crucial role in a country’s development, but how could areas separated by bodies of water exchange important goods in a more quick and convenient way? That’s where the RoRo vessel takes the spotlight.

In this article, let’s find out about the hard worker of the sea – the RoRo cargo ship!

What is RoRo Cargo?

You’ve probably heard the word RoRo being thrown around especially by individuals in ports or those who need to transport large items. Well then, stop racking your brains for the meaning of RoRo (it’s an acronym) – we’re here to tell you! It means Roll-on/Roll-off cargo – the opposite of the LoLo – the Lift on/Lift off vessel.

So when we talk about RoRo shipping, its name pertains to the description of how the cargo is loaded and unloaded from the vessel – it's rolled on and rolled off.


Compared to other vessels that you can actually check out here, the cargo on RoRo ships is literally rolled or driven inside using a wide stern ramp or bow - unlike other ships that use cranes to lift the cargo on or off the vessel. Also, RoRo ships carry both vehicles and freight cargo, though some are also used as passenger ferries.

Using this sea workhorse is a convenient way (and is perfectly suited) to carry heavy cargo from one place to another due to its speed and flexibility. (Imagine the time saved with cargo just being rolled on and of the vessel after the ship has docked).According to the Philippine port authority, the use of this heavy duty vessel is the “most efficient” in connecting a country’s islands. It also has a significant part in trade and tourism. They also defined the vessel as a specially designed ship for carrying trailers, cars, and other rolling equipment.

Getting an idea on what a RoRo is now? Great! Don’t think that this vessel is modern because RoRos first appeared in the 19th century! However, back then, RoRos were used for the transportation of railway cars and trailers. They also played an important role in World War II as tank landing ships.


Since then, the RoRo vessel has played a lot of roles from being a railway cargo transporter to a ferry to a combined vehicle and passenger ship.

For more history on RoRo boats, read our article here!

RoRo ships can have up to 13 decks with most having a capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 car equivalent units, while some can hold up to 8,000 vehicles.

Fun fact – RoRo ships are measured in Lane in Meters or LIMs. LIMs are calculated by  multiplying the length of the cargo in meters to the cargo’s width in a lane. That will give you the number of X where X is then multiplied to the number of decks on the vessel.

To put it simply:

Length of the cargo in meters x cargo’s width in a lane = X


X (number of decks on the vessel)

So there you have it, if you think you’re going to use this equation soon, don’t hesitate to save this article!

What does it look like inside a RoRo ship?

Now, if you’re wondering what a RoRo ship looks like on the inside, you can check out the video below from Rauma Marine Constructions where they show the ship’s main engine, decks, cargo area, and passenger area.

The photo below (courtesy of Ship and Yacht Engineering Ltd.) also shows the design of a RoRo vessel.

Variations of RoRo vessels

Now that you understand what a RoRo boat is, let’s roll on to the different types of RoRo! Types of RoRo vessels differ depending on the nature of their cargo, so here they are:  

Pure Car Carriers (PCC) - This type is dedicated to carry and transport – yep – cars. You can read more about car carriers here.

Pure Car/Truck Carriers (PCTC) - This type of carrier is the same as the PCC, however, it also transports trucks and other vehicles. The PCC and PCTC have a box-like framework and multiple decks to fit the cargo.

ConRo (or RoCon) - This RoRo ship can carry both rolling equipment and containerized freight. The top deck of this ship is usually used for containers loaded by a crane while the lower deck is used for the vehicles.


RoPax - This vessel is used to also carry passengers. This Roll-on/Roll-off passenger ship combines private cars and commercial vehicles along with passenger accommodation for short journeys.

RoLo - It’s in the name – this ship uses a combination of roll on and lift off. The vehicles are rolled on using ramps while cranes are used for the containers.

LMSR - This Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off vessel transports wheeled military cargo, such as tanks, tracked vehicles and trucks. These are mostly used by the Military Sealift Command (MSC).

Advantages of RoRo ships

Aside from its number of variations, let’s talk about the advantages of the RoRo vessel. When we discuss the benefits of using RoRo ships, two words come to mind – flexibility and speed.

FlexibilityAs we have said earlier, the RoRo ship offers a variety of its kind – whether it’s a car carrier or a ferry, these vessels have the ability to transport goods or passengers (or both) from a certain location to another.

Thanks to its flexibility, private car owners or travelers can travel with their own car without any hassle – they just need to drive their car onto the vessel. It’s also a cost-effective way to bring passengers to their chosen destination.

In addition to this, the RoRo vessel can also lessen the risk of accidents and cargo damage due to using a more efficient cargo handling system when loading and unloading.

SpeedUnlike the traditional container ship, RoRo shipping saves time due to its quicker operational speed and how it handles cargo. With RoRo boats, vehicles can be driven onto and off the ship; a method that takes a lot less time when compared to cargo that is loaded using cranes.

Thanks to this quicker way of loading and unloading, the ship can immediately proceed to its destination – saving precious time.

So there you have it! We hope we’ve given you some idea of what RoRo cargo is all about and its contribution to the maritime industry.

Meanwhile, if you can’t get enough of ships, check out our article on cargo and container ships!

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Nathaly Seruela

Nathaly Seruela

Former content writer at Martide.