A tender is a small boat that’s used to transport passengers between their cruise ship and the port when the ship itself is unable to dock. These tenders are usually carried by the cruise ship, and often double as a lifeboat. Don’t be nervous though, these aren’t the types of lifeboats you see in the movies – they’re more like sightseeing boats and are often capable of carrying between 80 and 150 passengers at a time. If you’re new to cruising, or are planning to take your first cruise that includes a tender port, here’s everything you need to know.


Why is tendering necessary?

There are many reasons why your ship may need to tender at some ports, rather than dock. Don’t be deterred by booking a cruise that includes tender ports – it’s exciting!

Yes, getting on and off the ship is a little more effort than simply walking off when docked, but keep in mind that your cruise line has been doing this for years, and they’ve got the tendering process down to a fine art. Here are some cases when you may need to tender.

Big ships might not fit!

Today’s ships are getting bigger and while they’re designed to offer the ultimate on board experience, they’re not always designed to fit into a specific port. This doesn’t stop them visiting certain destinations though; they will just need to provide a tender to get you across to the destination.

Tender boats for small ports

Even some of the more modestly sized ships sailing the seas today can’t always fit into port. This is most often the case in some of Europe’s historic destinations where the ports are typically quite small and filled with tradition. It’s also common throughout the Caribbean and especially on private island where there’s not much of a port area at all.

Celebrity Solstice tender

Shallow waters

Safety is always a priority for cruise lines, and if there’s a chance that the water would be too shallow or too rocky closer to land, then they simply won’t take that risk. Ships dock just offshore in deeper water and transport passengers on smaller tenders which can navigate shallower waters without danger.

Availability of cruise ports

If you’ve cruised before, you’ll have noticed other cruise ships in port at the same time in certain destinations. Ports are starting to get booked up quicker now that many cruise lines are putting more of an emphasis on destinations and even offering overnight stays in port. If a port is fully booked, they may offer a tendering space to appease the cruise line and boost local tourism.

Tender ports and shore excursions

If you’ve booked a shore excursion in a tender port, don’t worry! For excursions that begin early in the day, passengers will be given priority for tenders and other passengers will usually be required to wait on board until all tour guests have been taken ashore. If your excursion begins in the afternoon, you should have no difficulty in getting off the ship in time (tender queues have usually reduced significantly by lunchtime) and the organisation process is extremely efficient. When your excursion is over, don’t feel like you need to get straight back on the tender – take some time to stroll the port area, explore, and do some shopping if you wish.

Hints and tips for tender ports

  • Listen to ship announcements carefully – you may need to collect a tender ticket before boarding which is a way of keeping the queues and waiting times to a minimum.
  • Let crew members know in advance if you need assistance getting on and off the tender. Some cruise lines unfortunately cannot transfer wheelchair users due to health and safety, but they will always try to accommodate those with mobility problems.
  • There’s no need to rush back on board if you’re having fun, just keep in mind the time of the last tender back to the ship. The last tender is often the quietest of the day, so it can be quite a relaxed and special journey.
  • If your tender has an exposed upper deck, try and grab a seat up there as the views are unobstructed and completely breathtaking, especially as you get right alongside your cruise ship.
  • Take your camera! Being able to view your awe inspiring cruise ship from water level is a truly unbelievable sight and you can get some incredible photos of your ship as you sail away.

How do I know if I’m visiting a tender port?

Most cruise lines will indicate if a port is a tender port in their itineraries (it’s usually depicted by a small anchor symbol). It’s also worth keeping an eye on the information you’re given on board, just in case there are any changes. This might be delivered to your cabin, or displayed via the in-room entertainment system.