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What is a Stevedore?

The words stevedore, docker, and longshoreman can have various waterfront-related meanings concerning loading and unloading ships, according to place and country.

The word "stevedore" was brought from Spain or Portugal by sailors. It started as a phonetic spelling of Spanish estibador or Portuguese estivador = "a man who stuffs", here in the sense of "a man who loads ships", which was the original meaning of "stevedore"; compare Latin stipāre = "to stuff".

In the United Kingdom, men who load and unload ships are usually called dockers while in the United States and Canada the term longshoreman, derived from "Man-along-the-shore", is used.

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Loading and unloading ships requires knowledge of the operation of loading equipment, the proper techniques for lifting and stowing cargo, and correct handling of hazardous materials. In addition, workers must be physically strong and be able to follow orders.

In earlier days, men who load and unload ships had to tie down cargoes with rope. A type of stopper knot is called the stevedore knot. The methods of securely tying up parcels of goods is called stevedore lashing or stevedore knotting. While loading a general cargo vessel, they use dunnage, which are pieces of wood (or nowadays sometimes strong inflatable bags) set down to keep the cargo out of any water that might be lying in the hold or are placed as shims between cargo crates to keep them from shifting during a voyage.

Today, the vast majority of non-bulk cargo is transported in shipping containers. The containers arrive at a port by truck, rail or another ship and are stacked in the port's storage area. When the ship that will be transporting them arrives, the containers that it is offloading are unloaded by a crane. The containers either leave the port by truck or rail or are put in the storage area until they are put on another ship. Once the ship is offloaded, the containers it is leaving with are brought to the dock by truck. A crane lifts the containers from the trucks into the ship. As the containers pile up in the ship, the workers connect them to the ship and to each other. The jobs involved include the crane operators, the workers who connect the containers to the ship and each other, the truck drivers that transport the containers from the dock and storage area, the workers who track the containers in the storage area and as they are loaded and unloaded, as well as various supervisors. Those workers at the port who handle and move the containers are likely to be considered stevedores or longshoremen.

Because they work outdoors in all types of weather, these workers adopted a type of cap that has a snug fit, is warm, and is easily put away in a pocket. These are a type of beanie or watch cap called variously stevedore's cap or stevedore's hat.

Before containerization, freight was often handled with a longshoreman’s hook, a tool which became emblematic of the profession (at least in the United States).

Traditionally, stevedores would have no fixed job and turn up at the docks in the morning hoping to find someone willing to employ them for the day. London dockers and deal porters called this practice "standing on the stones", while in the United States it was referred to as "Shaping". In Britain, due to changes in employment laws, such jobs have either become permanent or have been to converted to temporary jobs.

Dock workers have been a prominent part of the modern labor movement.


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