A harbor is a sheltered body of water which can be used as a shelter for ships. Many major cities are located near large natural harbors, since a harbor can provide a connection to international trade and shipping. Both natural and artificial harbors can be found all over the world, ranging from small coves which are little more than shelters from inclement weather to bustling ports. In some English speaking nations, the word is spelled “harbour.”
Harbors fall into two basic types. Natural harbors are geological features created by the landscape. A natural harbor can be quite large, or just small enough to fit a few ships sheltering from a storm. San Francisco Bay in California is a well known example of a natural harbor. Artificial harbors are created through the use of piers, jetties, and other man-made features, and they may also be dredged to allow passage for larger ships. The port of Trondheim in Norway is a large artificial harbor.
A large harbor is often combined with a port, a facility which allows ships to load and unload cargo. A port usually includes support for ships as well, including repair areas, stores for provisioning and stocking ships, and similar facilities. Ships often require a range of services when they dock, and an assortment of firms offer those services, sometimes at a premium in obscure ports.
Since a harbor has traditionally been used as a shelter or haven, the verbal form of the word is used to refer to sheltering or protecting individuals as well as ships. A ship usually has extensive details on regional harbors in the form of a directory which allows the ship to find shelter and needed facilities. Ship's charts also include harbor information, with a basic chart simply noting the location of a harbor, along with its depth, so that a captain can determine whether he or she can enter that harbor. More extensive charts might include the kind of facilities available and other information of interest.
Since a harbor is very economically important, most nations closely control their harbors. Many largely landlocked nations also secure small areas of shoreline so that they can participate in shipping and trade, since numerous goods continue to be carried by ship. Harbors are often patrolled by special law enforcement to enforce prevailing laws, and ship traffic is carefully monitored to make sure that restricted items or people are not exiting or entering a country.