90% of world trade is shipped by sea with more than 100,000 commercial ships worldwide.

Shipping makes intercontinental trade possible – mainly the import/export of food and manufactured products and the bulk transport of raw materials. The U.S. contributes over 25% of the world’s total consumption which is why the ocean freight industry is an important part of its economy. In 2019, the U.S. was the leading import country in the world with an import value of about $3.1 trillion, and the second leading export country with $2.5 trillion, after China.

Let’s take a look at the top 5 busiest ports in the U.S. and their TEU counts.

But first, what does TEU means?

The twenty-foot equivalent unit, or TEU for short, is a unit often used to describe the capacity of container ships and container terminals whose cargo capacity is uncertain. With this unit, the containers are based on a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) metal box volume so they can be easily transferred between different modes of transport such as trains, trucks, and boats.

TEU capacities for common container sizes

Length Width Height Internal Volume TEU
20 ft (6.1 m) 8 ft (2.44 m) 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m) 1,172 cu ft (33.2 m3) 1
40 ft (12.2 m) 8 ft (2.44 m) 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m) 2,389 cu ft (67.6 m3) 2

1. Port of Los Angeles

The Port of Los Angeles is located on San Pedro Bay in Los Angeles. It occupies 7,500 acres of land and water along 43 miles of coastline and is adjacent to the separate Long Beach Harbor.

The container volume of the port was 9.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in the calendar year 2019. The port is the busiest in the United States in terms of container volume and the most cargo transported in the Western Hemisphere.

It is also the number one freight gateway in the United States when ranked by the value of shipments passing through it.

2. Port of New York and New Jersey

The Port of New York and New Jersey is located in the New York-Newark metropolitan area, spanning the area within an approximately 25-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and stretches 650 miles of coastline around New York City and northeast New Jersey. The port is one of the largest natural harbors in the world and the second-busiest port in the United States by tonnage as of 2019 and the busiest port on the East Coast. The Port handled 7,471,131 TEUs on an annual basis in 2019.

3. Port of Long Beach

The Port of Long Beach, serving as a gateway for transpacific trade with Asia, covers 3,200 acres of land with 25 miles of coastline in the city of Long Beach, California. It is also one of the few ports in the country big enough to accommodate the biggest vessels in the world. Together with the Port of Los Angeles, they’re responsible for over one-quarter of the total container trade in North America. The port left behind the second strongest year in its 109-year history, with employees loading and unloading 7,632,032 TEUs in 2019.

4. Port of Savannah

The Port of Savannah is a major U.S. port located in Savannah, Georgia. Its facilities for ocean-going vessels cover both sides of the Savannah River, approximately 18 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. It is home to the largest single-terminal container facility in the Western Hemisphere and it has two deepwater terminals. The Port processed 4,438,347 TEUs on an annual basis in 2019.

5. Port of Houston

Located in the fourth largest city in the United States, the Port of Houston serves the metropolitan area of Houston, Texas. The port is a 50-mile-long complex of various public and private facilities. Although initially, the port’s terminals were mainly within the boundaries of the City of Houston, the port has expanded so much that today it has facilities in many surrounding areas. The Gulf Coast port increased the number of TEUs it handles for 2019 by 10.6% to 2,987,291. With the increase, officials say the facility is the fastest-growing container port in North America.