The shipowner is the person who equips a ship (also fits out a ship), provides her with the necessary provisions and crew and runs or operates her. Shipowners are distinguished by the type of operations in which they are engaged.
A shipowner who is engaged in the transportation of goods and/or passengers is simply called an “owner”; One who operates a fishing vessel or fishing boat (or a fishing fleet) is called a “fishing boat owner”; one who operates a towing service is called a “tug boat owner”, etc.
The owner may or may not be the proprietor of the vessel; he may command the ship himself or entrust it to a master who is at his service.
When a person who fits out and operates a ship, is also the proprietor of it, he is called “owner”. Usually a ship (and certainly several ships), will not be owned by a single person (because of the large investment required) but it will be owned by a group of persons (or enterprises such as banks and the like) who form a company or partnership. A company or partnership that fits and operates ships is called a “shipping company”.
When several persons own a ship, they are referred to by the term “owners” (in plural).
The owner of a ship can choose not to operate his ship himself but to entrust this to a third person or company. This can be done in several ways : by “bareboat or demise charter”, by “time charter” or via a “managing company”.
The person who hires a ship (or several ships) in bareboat charter or in time charter is called a “disponent owner”. If the commercial operation of the ship is entrusted to a managing company, than the manager is called “managing owner”.
The person or company who owns the ship and rents it to a third party is also called the “owner”.
The owner can consequently be the real owner as well as the disponent owner or the managing owner of the ship. More and more the term “operator” is used to indicate the disponent owner or the managing owner.
The “charterer” is the person or the company who hires the ship.
The charterer may consequently be the importer, the exporter or even be an owner already.