Sea transport is watercraft carrying people (passengers) or goods (cargo). Sea transport has been the largest carrier of freight throughout recorded history. Although the importance of sea travel for passengers has decreased due to aviation, it is effective for short trips and pleasure cruises. Transport by water is cheaper than transport by air, despite fluctuating exchange rates and CAF charges to account for such. Ship transport can be over any distance by boat, ship, sailboat or barge, over oceans and lakes, through canals or along rivers. Shipping may be for commerce, recreation or the military. Virtually any material that can be moved can be moved by water; however, water transport becomes impractical when material delivery is highly time-critical. Containerization revolutionized ship transport starting in the 1970s. "General cargo" includes goods packaged in boxes, cases, pallets, and barrels. When a cargo is carried in more than one mode, it is intermodal or co-modal.
A nation's shipping fleet (merchant navy, merchant marine, merchant fleet) consists of the ships operated by civilian crews to transport passengers or cargo. Professionals are merchant seaman, merchant sailor, and merchant mariner, or simply seaman, sailor, or mariner. The terms "seaman" or "sailor" may refer to a member of a country's navy. According to the 2005 CIA World Fact book, the world total number of merchant ships of 1,000 Gross Register Tons or over was 30,936. In 2010, it was 38,988 Statistics for individual countries are available at the List of merchant marine capacity by country.