Surveying the busiest ports in North America


Surveying ports in North America

While making my Busiest European Ports on a Map quiz, finding a suitable source was not difficult at all: Eurostat, the European Statistical Office, had basically already surveyed and compiled what I needed for the quiz in a neat little article, so all I really had to do was cross out the ports that had responded to the surveyors' call but are not in the European continent (mainly Turkish ports in Anatolia).

Making my new quiz, Busiest North American Ports on a Map, was not going to be this easy. Of course, I could have just searched for a pre-made list with no source citations on Wikipedia or Google, like for example this one from WorldAtlas and just call it a day, but I thought it would have been more fun to dig in a little more and do some research on my own, while keeping unsourced lists as a sort of guide of what ports I should look up.

The metrics of the survey

The first thing I had to think about was what to actually consider to be "North America"; this was pretty straightforward, as the term is only slightly ambigous: the region to be surveyed consisted of central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, the USA and Canada, and I decided not to include overseas regions or territories of countries not in North America. For example, the British Virgin Islands and Aruba are not included as they are part of the UK and the Netherlands respectively, but the US Virgin Islands are included since the United States is in fact included in our definition of North America.

I then had to think about what statistics to actually include; most of the rankings from third parties that can be found online only cite TEU, but I personally tend to prefer total tonnage handled as a form of measurement. Also, I wanted to have some form of passenger count to keep some kind of continuity with my European Ports quiz, so I decided to include cruise passengers handled in the survey rankings.

Gaining Sources

Cargo Statistics

After having clarified what countries had to be considered, I started looking for sources I could cite in my quiz. The first one to come up was the pretty self-explanatory American Association of Port Authorities with its Port Industry Statistics portal, where I could gather some data. As I wanted to get the latest data possible, I got started with the Current Year 2018 report, which had a lot of data I needed, but the download link stated clearly that only some of the autorithies part of the AAPA were included in the report, so I started looking elsewhere for more statistics.

In the search for more sources, I started to look into national associations and ministries, looking specifically for the countries I thought I needed to give more attention to based on what other lists online showed. The first and easiest country was going to be the US, so that got me to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which published a quite extensive report on US harbours based on 2016 data, which was good enough for me, and also has a cool (albeit a little janky) map tool with single port statistics with 2017 data. While searching for ports that were included in that Report to Congress, but not in the other tool, the Port of Pascagoula authority came to my rescue with a list of ports with statistics from 2017 that I couldn't find anywhere else, and that seemed to have more data than other sources.

After spending some time searching data on US ports, it seemed like it was time to move on to the other countries that had to be surveyed: I based which ports to search exact statistics on and which I felt comfortable not to look that much into on other lists on the web and the CIA Factbook page on ports and terminals. What I ended up with was basically only Canadian and Mexican ports, so I looked for annual reports from every major port, which I found on the List of Canada Port Authorities from the Government of Canada and the Mexican equivalent.

Cruise Statistics

It was then time to look for a source for data on cruise passengers; thankfully the rankings from AAPA cited earlier had some data on that as well, so I compiled the data for the ports included in that report. On the same webpage the AAPA also provided cruise traffic reports: in particular, I used the 2014-16 Caribbean Port Cruise Traffic Report and the 2014-2016 NAFTA Region Ports Cruise Traffic. Later I also collected some data from the Northern America Cruise Traffic 2015-2017 Report.

While compiling the data, I also looked at some port authorities' websites to check for newer passenger statistic, and to add some ports that had been missing, in particular ports in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Central America; looking for Central America data, I found a 2017 Report from the Comisión Centroamericana de Transporte Marítimo that provided data on cargo ports, which I swiftly added to the cargo ports rankings, and cruise ports from every country in the region with the exception of Belize, which I searched on its own afterwards.


If all this rambling on ports, data and sources caught your interest, you can try guessing the first 15 ports in the rankings for each category in my quiz, Busiest North American Ports on a Map!

As a final disclaimer, I would like to say that this survey is by no means a professional report: all I wanted was to look up some data myself to source a quiz, and I think I did that just fine.

In case you want to look at the compiled data, you can download the (TinyUplaod hosted) spreadsheet here. If you find any errors or better sources, don't hesitate to comment!

Thanks for reading!

Level 74
Dec 11, 2019
Woah you really like those links
Level 67
Dec 12, 2019
I sure do! Also, since this was basically the source for my quiz I sort of felt like I had to be credible and provide links for everything
Level 55
Aug 6, 2020
Very nice!! Very detailed, fantastic blog!
Level 67
Aug 7, 2020
Thank you! In the future I might continue with these blog entries as I pick up the quiz series on ports again. I put it on hold some months ago, when I was looking for sources on South America and Oceania and got stuck, since all official articles online were very confusing and a tad self-contradictory