The shipping sector's rising greenhouse gas emissions are often considered “hard-to-abate”. Some ship-owners have recently adopted or started to consider the adoption of alternative fuels, but systematic studies of this are still lacking. We address this gap by studying how ship-owners differ in both actual and intended adoption of alternative fuels. We analyze data from a unique survey with 281 ship-owners in Norway, a major ship-owning country and center for maritime technology development, with descriptive statistics and analysis of variance. We find early adopters among large and established ship-owners in offshore, international cargo and domestic passenger shipping segments, which are often subjected to specific contractual demands for alternative fuel adoption. Laggards were typically small and young ship-owners operating in shipping segments where demands for alternative fuel adoption are weak. Our findings also suggest that firms' business strategy and financial and knowledge resources may have relevance for ship-owner's adoption of alternative fuels. Our study has implications for national and international policymaking, highlighting for example how contracting mechanisms can be an effective tool in incentivizing the adoption of alternative fuels.