The aim of this study was to define and compare the infectious and non-infectious complications associated with Hickman catheters and implantable ports in children. The study was conducted over a three-year period in the Department of Haematology-Oncology at the Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel. All patients who required a central venous catheter (CVC) were included in the study. For each episode of catheter-associated bloodstream infection, demographic, clinical and microbiology data were recorded. During the study period, 419 tunnelled CVCs (246 implantable ports and 173 Hickman) were inserted in 281 patients. Compared with implantable ports, Hickman catheters were associated with a significantly higher rate of bloodstream infections (4.656 vs 1.451 episodes per 1000 catheter-days), shorter time to first infection (52.31 vs 108.82 days, P < 0.001), shorter duration of catheterization (140.75 vs 277.28 days, P < 0.001), and higher rate of removal because of mechanical complications (P < 0.005). Gram-positive bacterial infections were more prevalent in the implantable port group (63.6% vs 41.6%), whereas Gram-negative rods, polymicrobial infections and mycobacterial infections were more prevalent in the Hickman group (31.4% vs 50.9%, 17% vs 36% and 0% vs 4.4%, respectively; P < 0.05 for all). Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation was identified as an independent risk factor for infection [odds ratio (OR) -1.68, P = 0.005] and for catheter removal due to complications (OR -2.0, P < 0.001). Implantable ports may be considered the preferred device for most paediatric oncology and stem cell transplantation patients.