It’s no secret how much I love watching the cargo ships come and go along River Street. In fact, if I was creating a Savannah itinerary, I would probably base it around the cargo ship schedule! I’d want to make sure I was on the riverfront whenever the biggest ships were passing through.

There are plenty of visitors who also tell me the ships are their favorite sight to see in Savannah, and the Savannah River Ships & Tugs Facebook page provides further proof of man’s collective fascination with these massive floating beasts.

Until you see one in person, it’s hard to understand just how impressive these giants truly are.

A massive cargo ship overshadows the Talmadge bridge at sunset along River Street in Savannah

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Pictures of Cargo Ships in Savannah

To give you an idea of the size, here’s a shot of the CMA CGM Mexico. While it’s not the biggest ship to ever come through Savannah, it is very typical of the usual cargo ships in this area.

The bow of the navy blue CMA CGM MEXICO as it heads into the Savannah port
The CMA CGM Mexico is longer than three football fields from bow to stern! | ©ErinClarkson

➡️ A football field measures 109.7 meters.
➡️ The CMA CGM Mexico measures in at 366 meters.

That means many of the cargo ships passing through the port are three times the length of a football field — sometimes more!

The tugboats are usually nearby, just in case the ships need any help staying on course.

A yellow, red, and black tugboat named POINT CLEAR cruises alongside of a large green cargo ship with the word CHINA labeled in white across its port side
A blue and red cargo ship loaded down with containers and the words "Hapag-Lloyd" in white on the side

The above-deck levels of the ship can extend 8 to 10 “floors” atop the deck.

Here are a few photos to provide some perspective of how tiny humans look aboard the ships. You can barely see them when you’re standing along River Street!

Side view of the many above-board levels of a giant cargo ship in Savannah, with six different levels visible in the scene and men standing on three of the levels
Two sailors relax aboard separate levels of a cargo ship in Savannah -- each seemingly unaware of the other
The navy-blue hull of a cargo ship in Savannah with metal steps attached at an angle
I used my Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens to zoom in on the people in the three photos above. | All photos ©ErinClarkson

It’s interesting to see how many containers are stacked aboard the ships, and there are many more below deck that aren’t visible from the banks of the river.

To give you an idea of the height of the stacks, each shipping container is approximately 9 feet tall. That means ten stacks would rise nearly 100-feet above the deck.

The African American Monument on River Street in Savannah shows a family of four looking towards the river as a giant cargo ship passes by, loaded with colorful shipping containers
The Hudson Express appears to barely clear the bottom of the Talmadge bridge as it leaves the Savannah port and heads out to open water
Workers aboard the Hudson Express snap photos of the Savannah waterfront as the cargo ship leaves the port
The Hudson Express cargo ship leaves the port of Savannah with colorful containers stacked atop its deck. With so many containers stacked aboard, the ship appears as tall or taller than a many-multi-story hotel that can be seen nearby along the banks of the river
This photo is a bit of an illusion, since the ship is closer than the hotel, but it gives you an idea of the height of the ships when they’re loaded with cargo! | ©ErinClarkson

Ship Schedule for the Savannah Port

There are a couple ways to track the ships as they’re headed up and down the Savannah River.

Here are a few good options…

How to Check the GA Ports Schedule

My first step is to always check the Georgia Ports website to find the anticipated arrival time for the cargo ships. It’s not always exact, but it does provide estimated arrival and departure times.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Visit the GA Ports vessel schedule
  • Select a terminal (Ocean or Garden City)
  • Look for listings highlighted in orange (still to come)
  • Look under the “ETA” column for their estimated arrival time
  • Look under the “Vessel” column to find the name of the ship

Both terminals are upriver from River Street and the big Savannah bridge, aka: the Talmadge Bridge.

The Ocean terminal is closer to the bridge (aka: closer to the ocean) and the Garden City Terminal is upriver from the Ocean one.

Ships going to either terminal will enter the Savannah River from the Atlantic near Tybee, cruise upriver past River Street, and then they’ll dock at one of the terminals for loading and unloading.

They depart via the same route, although in reverse order.

If you look on the ship schedule under the “ETD” column, it shows the time the vessels are expected to depart Savannah and head back out to sea.

The GA Port website uses military time. For example, 14:00 would be 2:00 p.m.

How to Use the Marine Traffic App

Once you have the vessel name and the estimated time of arrival, you’ll want to download the Marine Traffic app.

It shows live maps of cargo ships as they move across the globe. You can enter the vessel name and track it as is moves upriver towards Savannah.

You can also zoom in on the coast near Savannah to see which ships are waiting to enter the port.

The bigger ships appear as triangles and then become more elongated and ship-shaped the closer in you zoom. Click on any ship to get more info regarding the vessel name and its point of origin.

The Marine Traffic app is very handy to have on your phone if you’re inside one of the businesses along River Street and want to make sure you don’t miss seeing a ship pass by.

View Remotely via Live River Street Cams

You can also view the ships coming and going from the comfort of your own home via the live cam feeds on WSAV. Their cameras show the river from multiple angles.

Learn More via Local Facebook Groups

If you’re on Facebook, I also suggest following the Savannah River Ships & Tugs account to see daily photos of the ships passing through.

Many locals who work at the ports post educational info and share what life is like working in a port city.

FAQ: Do the Cargo Ships Stop at Night?

Port activities seem to run 24/7, so you have a good chance of seeing ships rain or shine/day or night.

Nighttime shot of the Talmadge Bridge in Savannah with a cargo ship docked beneath it. Bright lights illuminate the deck, and the sky in the background has a purplish tint to it. The suspension cables on the bridge are partially illuminated

The two main things that stop the steady flow of ships (that I’m aware of) are hurricanes and dense fog.

Fog settles over the Talmadge bridge in Savannah, partially obscuring the tallest points of the structure

Tugboats in Savannah

As much as people love giving the container ships their undivided attention, I think the tugboats are just as interesting.

It only takes two or three of them to push a giant cargo ship into position at the docks. (Here’s a video of three Savannah-based tugs pushing a ship into place for unloading at the docks.)

Many of the tugs have 6,000 HP engines, and the air literally feels as though it’s pulsating when they’re at full power. It’s something to experience!

A red tugboat chugs directly towards the camera in the foreground while a yellow ship with a green hull is docked in the background next to a bright blue crane
A red tugboat heads down the Savannah river while a yellow ship with a green hull is docked in the background next to a bright blue crane

A few of the Moran tugs I’ve photographed in Savannah include the Cooper Moran (as seen above), Dennis Moran, Diane Moran, and Jack T. Moran.

Aerial view of the Florida tugboat as it heads upriver in Savannah. It's yellow and red above the deck and has a black hull

I’ve also spotted the brightly colored Florida and Point Clear tugboats chugging up and down the Savannah River.

U.S. Coast Guard Docked in Savannah

It’s always a treat when the U.S. Coast Guard docks along River Street. Personnel often chat with passersby to provide boating safety tips and answer questions about what life is like aboard a ship.

These shots are of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter JOSHUA APPLEBY when it was docked in January of 2022. According to their website, the vessel is named after an American lighthouse keeper who died during The Great Havana Hurricane of 1846.

Side view of a U.S. Coast Guard Ship docked on River Street in Savannah, Georgia at night with purple lights illuminating the deck
Close-up of large buoys on the deck of the US Coast Guard's "Joshua Appleby"

You can see photos of recent activity on the USCGC JOSHUA APPLEBY Facebook page.

Bow of the USCGC TAHOMA docked along River Street. The cutter is white with one thin blue vertical stripe and one thick red vertical stripe on the side. The top deck is loaded with radar equipment. Black lettering on the side reads U.S. Coast Guard 908
USCGC TAHOMA is based out of Portsmouth, NH, but it was docked in Savannah on a rainy day in March of 2024. | ©ErinClarkson

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter ANVIL is based out of Charleston, South Carolina, and it frequently stops in Savannah and ports throughout the Lowcountry. These photos are from a visit in December of 2023.

White lettering spelling "ANVIL" pops against a dark background on the stern of a U.S. Coast Guard ship docked along River Street in Savannah. Purple lights illuminate the deck of the vessel

You can track its whereabouts on the USCGC ANVIL Facebook Page.

The Savannah Fire Department’s “Courageous”

Marine One, aka: “Courageous,” is another boat you’re likely to see docked along River Street. It’s owned by the Savannah Fire Department and is instrumental in putting out fires along the waterfront.

The Savannah Fire Department's "Courageous" rescue boat docked on River Street with a pretty purple sunset visible behind the Talmadge bridge in the background

For example, it played a major role in extinguishing a massive fire that broke out in the Eastern Wharf District in late February of 2020. It pumped more than five million gallons of water out of the river to help extinguish the fire!

Ship-Spotting Activities in Savannah

I’ve written quite a few posts about things to do in Savannah, but I want to list a few options tailored specifically to the ship fanatics…

Take a Boat Tour of the Waterfront

There are a few different tours that will take you out on the water so you can see the cargo ships up close and personal.

Savannah Harbor Cruises offers a narrated tour aboard a covered pontoon, so this is a good option if you want to see the ships while staying protected from the sun. The tour lasts 90 minutes and goes under the Talmadge bridge and then continues upriver to explore the waterfront near Georgia Port Authority. It departs from River Street. Check rates here

Outside Savannah also offers a 90-minute tour of the waterfront that goes upriver to explore the area around the Georgia Port Authority. I appreciate that this company gives back to charitable organizations throughout the Lowcountry, such as the incredible Penn Center on St. Helena Island in S.C. The tour departs from across the river at The Westin. Check rates here

Captain Derek’s Dolphin Tour departs from Tybee Island, but it’s such a popular option with readers that I have to mention it. Even though the tour’s focus is on dolphin spotting, there’s always a decent chance you’ll see cargo ships headed towards the port. Check rates here

We did Captain Derek’s sunset dolphin cruise, and it was awesome. It was one of the highlights of our weekend!

Missy A. via the Savannah FTG Facebook group

Related Reading: A First-Time Visitor’s Guide to Tybee Island

Take a Cruise on the Georgia Queen Riverboat

The Georgia Queen Riverboat is a common sight along River Street. It’s a passenger boat that takes tourists on rides to see Savannah’s waterfront.

The Georgia Queen Riverboat docked along River Street at night with a lavender and orange sunset visible behind the Talmadge Bridge

You can choose from dinner cruises, lunch cruises, sunset cruises, or the ever-popular gospel dinner cruise.

Visit Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

If you’re a fan of ships, you’ll probably want to schedule a visit to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

It’s located inside the beautiful William Scarbrough House and is filled with model ships, paintings of ships navigating stormy seas, and antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Location: Historic District
Address: 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
Admission Fee: Approximately $15
Hours: Tues – Sun | 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Indoor/Outdoor: Mostly indoor, with an enclosed garden space outside
Parking: Handicap parking available on site
Website: Ships of the Sea

Related Reading: 17 Museums to Visit When You’re in Savannah

Do you have any questions about the container ships in Savannah? Leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer. (I’m no ship expert, though!)