Het scheepvaartverkeer in de Noordzee gebruikt een netwerk van vastgelegde en voorgeschreven zeeroutes. Deze beslaan ongeveer zes procent van de Nederlandse Noordzee (3.600 km²). Uiteraard mogen de zeeroutes niet door militaire oefengebieden lopen, maar ook moeten ze op afstand blijven van bijvoorbeeld olie- en gasinstallaties.
Since 1980 the total transhipment of goods in Dutch ports has increased by over 65%. By contrast, the number of ships calling at Dutch ports has remained reasonably steady in this period: in 2007 the number of sea voyages involved was 88,000, shipping 1.6 billion tons of freight to and from the ports.
The North Sea is bordered by land on three sides. The fourth side is formed by a funnel-shaped opening towards the North-eastern Atlantic Ocean. In a radius of 150 km from the coasts live 80 million people. The North Sea is an important passage on shipping routes and serves as a connection between Europe and the other world markets. In addition, there are many ferry connections between the countries bordering the North Sea. Together with the adjacent English Channel, the southern North Sea is the world’s busiest shipping region.