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I've been trying to find sources detailing the natural geographic features most suitable for shipping harbors along a coast—primarily for international trade. So far, I've read vague reference to bathymetry and natural harbors. What other geographic conditions should affect the viability of shipping (historically) along a country coastline?

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    $\begingroup$ At what era or level of technological development? Up until land transport reached the speed and convenience of a sailing ship, the criteria were quite different from the modern era. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @user_1818839 Prior to the industrial revolution—say around the 17th century? $\endgroup$
    – honeymoow
    Feb 12, 2023 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ I think you mean amenable. Amiable refers only to people. $\endgroup$
    – Phil Sweet
    Feb 14, 2023 at 1:45

2 Answers 2

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Here are some considerations:

  • It needs to be deep enough that you can get close to shore with a ship that extends several meters below sea level.

  • It needs to be protected from large waves, so a spit of land that goes around the harbor is useful.

  • It shouldn't be in a place where tides are large and ships will be moving up and down over the course of a day by too much to make loading and unloading difficult.

  • It shouldn't be in a place where winds are frequently too strong to make operations difficult.

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    $\begingroup$ Added to this, such places would need to have a large area so a large number of ships could congregate comfortably. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Feb 11, 2023 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ Added to this, it should be ice-free, or at least mostly ice-free, all year long. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2023 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ Added to this, the ability to defend the place from attack was good. $\endgroup$
    – Phil Sweet
    Feb 13, 2023 at 1:23
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The answer by @wolfgang_bangerth concentrates on the maritime conditions. What also is required are conditions on land that would make such locations useful as ports for international trade.

The land adjacent to such maritime locations needs to be reasonably flat and cover a large area so that holding yards can be established for goods arriving and leaving via a port and to facilitate land based transport networks, such as rail and road, in moving goods to and from ports. Steep coastlines, as one finds with fjords, are sub optimal for use as ports.

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    $\begingroup$ Since the question is focused on the 17th century, the location should also allow for easy re-supply of provisions, e.g. with sources of fresh water and food near by. In terms of geographic conditions, this disfavors desert regions. For the (later) age of steamships, a fairly local source of fuel would also be beneficial, but that is more a geological than a geographical factor. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Feb 13, 2023 at 0:22

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