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What Do You Call The Guys That Take Your Luggage Onto The Ship?

luggage porters at port of los angeles

Heather and I had a debate yesterday about what the guys who carry your luggage onto the cruise ship are called? She insisted they were called porters and I said stevedores though I have called them porters in the past as well. What do you guys think? What's the right name for these hardworking men (and a handfull of women) that take our bags when we drop them off at a cruise port before checking in?

What is a Stevedore?

The official definition of a stevedore is a manual laborer who is involved with the loading and unloading of ships, trucks, trains, airplanes, and other types of transportation. This role is also called a longshoreman or simply a dockworker though I feel like that's more in the context of loading cargo and freight. Additionally, and perhaps more critically the difference between longshoremen and steedores is that they are seperate trade unions. Specifically longshoremen are dockworkers while stevedores are more focused on the actual loading and unloading of cargo from the ship to shore.

The term is believed to have evolved from Portugese estivador and Spanish steibador which both would sound like the English word stevador. Litterally these original words translate to "a man who stuffs" or "a man who stores", which is pretty accurate to the job these guys perform with "stuffing" your bags into the ship!

Additionally, these luggage handlers are not employees of the cruise lines. Instead, they are usually contracted by the port authority or similar organziation to serve the port area and allow it to function smoothly, not just the cruise line.

Beyond this though, the definition gets more complicated because there are specific roles that apply to commercial shipping that aren't quite the same for cruise lines.

What is a Porter?

On the other hand, you have a porter. The definition of porter is much more specific to luggage handling instead of cargo and simply refers to a person who is hired to carry luggage and other loads at a railroad station, airport, or hotel. Litterally the word means "to carry" and evolved from Latin and Anglo-French heritage. However, the term is generally not officially associated with ships since historically moving cargo to a ship or around a dock area was the domain of stevedors.

While there are plenty of refernces to both porter vs stevedores, I can saw unequivally that at the Port of Los Angeles Cruise Terminal that the gentlemen helping guests with their luggage were wearing vests that said "PORTER" on the back. So, at very least, for cruises from Los Angeles, the proper term is porter!

So What Is The Right Word For The Luggage Guy?

The simple answer is that I'm not sure it matters. While the modern cruise industry has decades of experience, it pales in comparison to the centuries of experience where luggage was simply any other piece of cargo that needed to be loaded onto a ship. For example, look at sceens from Titanic where luggage and other items being transported by passengers were loaded by cranes as opposed to stacked on a luggage cart.

So, while this may be a popular topic to discuss on cruise forums and messageboards, the reality is that both can be considered correct. Depending on your perspective, the guy who handles your bags at the cruise port could be a stevedore or a porter.

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Perhapse the most important part of this debate though that everyone should agree on is that they are extremely hard working and you should tip them for their work. To some folks it seems like this is a bribe to get their bags on faster or in a way that is less damaging or infact many people think this is a good tip to avoid having items confiscated during a search of the bags i.e. alcohol. However, in my experience, these guys are very professional and your tip - while appreciated - isn't going to garner extra services or consideration. Everyone's bags are treated well and will get onto the ship and delivered to your room safely.