Cabotage or road: when to choose each one

  • 12/03/2020
  • 11 minutes

Product transport logistics is a decisive factor in the market for the competitiveness of companies throughout the production and distribution chain. It will determine prices, loss margins, delivery agility, supply flow, among many other important points for the viability of a business.

Thinking about the optimization of this stage and aiming at the maximum gains in it, is it better to bet on cabotage or road transportation? With the help of specialist Maurício Alvarenga, commercial director of Log-in Logística, we are going together in search of this answer. Keep reading!

What is cabotage?

Cabotage is the transportation of cargo by ship between ports internally in a country. In the case of Brazil, with one of the largest coasts among the nations in the world, it is a means used to cover great distances and to transport more specific cargo, such as oil and oil products.

Even though its use today in Brazil is more common in some cases, cabotage is compatible with the general transportation of all types of cargo, from raw materials to manufactured goods — using containers.

How does road transport work?

Road cargo transport is by far the most widespread in Brazil. Today, it is used for different types of freight, from small to large cargos, although its volume per unit is considerably lower than that of other modals (rail and cabotage).

There are several types of road transport that benefit from their own capillary nature of distribution. Therefore, it is more flexible in negotiation and in agreements between companies, charterers, distributors and other organizations within this chain to meet the expectations of each one of them.

What are the benefits of cabotage?

To define the most interesting modal for each company, it is necessary to understand, in practice, the benefits of each one of them. Let’s start by pointing out the advantages of investing in cabotage!

Longer distance coverage with more cargo

Cabotage allows the transportation of large volumes of cargo from practically all categories in a practical and efficient way over the great distances of a continental country like Brazil.

Instead of passing through winding, irregular roads and being subject to weather and traffic conditions, the ship can make a north-south route with predictable schedules and routes, giving more reliability for tracking the cargo. Maurício even makes an important comparison when he states that “cabotage has a regular rotation, it works like an air service: it has time to arrive and to leave”.

More security

Safety is one of the biggest advantages of cabotage in relation to road transport. Cabotage is generally considered a safer means of transport, both in relation to theft/loss and in relation to accidents.

Maurício points out a good consequence of this security in terms of economy: “the industries that pay cargo insurance usually get a better policy when the cargo travels by cabotage. That’s because according to the theft statistics, it’s a less risky modal.”

There is also the issue of cargo security, since the container, being a protective packaging for the customer’s goods, creates a robust protection, which helps to prevent possible damage during transport.

Space to grow

Cabotage is still an underutilized mode of transportation in Brazil. Maurício notes that “for every cargo that we have in cabotage today, 4 or 5 are still in a truck”.

This ends up becoming a great opportunity for all parties in this chain, with the negotiation of better charter conditions and the development of more efficient logistics systems.

Variety of cargos

Regarding the types of ships, we have general cargo ships, there are those that were developed to carry specific cargoes, such as gas tankers, tankers, bulk carriers, we also have oil tankers, reefer ships, container ships, vehicle carriers or Ro-Ro and those that carry live cargo. That is, there are a large number of ships available for all types of cargo, practically.

Lower environmental impact

Cabotage, because it is capable of transporting a lot of cargo at the same time and by natural routes, generates less fuel expenditure and less CO2 and Nox emissions in the atmosphere. This makes Cabotage a highly sought after modal for creating the least environmental impact, a very relevant topic today.

What are the benefits of road transport?

The advantages of road transport end up being better known by entrepreneurs, for being part of their routine. But it is worth listing!


As Brazil has invested a lot in highways in the last century, the consequence is a very extensive, distributed road network that covers much of the national territory. Therefore, it is easier to expand supply and distribution to even the most remote locations.

On-site boarding

Speaking of logistics differences, a major benefit of road transport is that it allows the transport unit to reach the goods — unlike other modals in which the goods must be taken to a specific place of shipment. Container cabotage also reaches the customer’s door with the use of multimodality, offering a door/door service similar to that of the road transport. The customer hires only the cabotage operator, in a simple and practical process.

Agility and flexibility

Road transport deliveries are faster because they have more flexibility in packaging, loading, routes etc. And as there are more players and service modalities in the sector, it is easier to negotiate attractive agreements for the parties.

Which modal to choose: cabotage or road?

As you can see, analyzing the benefits of the two modals, there is no single answer to this choice. Everything will depend on the cargo characteristics, distribution needs, distances, among other points that a company needs to take into account. Maurício explains it better:

“One of these points of attention is that, today, the maritime modal is viable when talking about long distances. Imagine transporting a cargo of electronics that is produced in Manaus to São Paulo. This merchandise, in order to go to SP by truck, ends up being exposed on the highway to theft or cargo damage — the truck breaks, accelerates, goes through holes and the merchandise rocks a lot and trembles a lot.”

In general, cabotage transport is cheaper for longer distances, while road transport is more advantageous over shorter distances. In addition, other aspects must be evaluated, such as type of merchandise, transit time, security, easiness, etc.

What the expert concludes is that the two modals are not competitors, but complementary. As the cabotage vessel only transports between ports, in almost all cases it is necessary to contract the highway tip, from the origin to the port, or from the port to the final destination.

In other words, the most interesting answer to this question is to bet on both modals whenever possible. Cabotage is a way of covering long distances with safety and predictability, while road transport provides agility and flexibility in cargo transportation.

Why, then, choose between cabotage or road? With planning and strategy, it is possible to enjoy the best of both modals.

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