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Shipping Freight in Ocean Containers 101

Posted by Ascent Global Logistics on Jun 16, 2017 2:32:36 PM

Shipping freight internationally via ocean containers – where to start? With various shipping container sizes and purposes, learning the key differences can help you make intelligent shipping decisions. Not only is selecting the optimal container type important for safe transportation of the cargo but will also yield cost effective options.Container Shipping Basics of Selecting Optimal Equipment.png

Ocean Shipping Containers: General Information

When evaluating the options for your shipment, keep the below in mind:

  • Containers are typically made of steel, with corrugated sides. Container bottoms usually consist of plywood or treated wood planks, unless stated otherwise.
  • When shipping goods that are concentrated or heavier than normal, confirm that the bottom of the container can support the weight without breaking.
  • Sizes of containers are listed in feet.
  • A container’s internal and door dimensions are generally standard, but at times vary by carrier. Confirm specific measurements during initial discussions with your carrier or freight forwarder.
  • Depending on the carrier, maximum payloads per container can vary. Be sure to confirm the maximum weight before shipping.
  • Before shipping, you’ll also need to confirm the weight of the containers are legal for ground and rail transportation.

Ocean Shipping Containers: Choosing the Type and Size Based on the Shipment  

The best type and size of container will vary from shipment to shipment and depend on the characteristics of the cargo. Below are descriptions of various types of ocean shipping containers to help you prepare for future shipments:

  • Standard Container: These units are completely enclosed with rigid walls, roof and floor. At least one end wall has a door for access. As the most popular shipping container option, standard containers are used for dry cargo packaged in boxes, bags, bales, pallets etc. and are available in the following sizes (length x width x height):
    • 20’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 9’6” (high cube)
    • 45’ x 8’ x 8’6”
  • Reefer Container: Also known as a “refrigerated container,” these containers are thermal, insulated units with compressors to heat or cool the cargo. Some reefer containers even have adjustable ventilation, allowing for internal airflow. Designed to transport temperature-sensitive cargo and perishable goods, like produce, reefer containers are the best option when transporting items that need to be transported at a constant temperature that’s above, or below, freezing. Available sizes (length x width x height):
    • 20’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 9’6” (high cube)
  • Flat Rack Container: Flat racks are made with a steel frame, a wood floor, fixed or collapsible end walls and no sidewalls. Some flat racks also have end walls that fold flush with the base. Having strong floors, flat racks are generally used to transport heavy, oversized or bulky cargo. Available sizes (length x width x height):
    • 20’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 9’6” (high cube)
  • Platform Container: This container is exactly how it sounds: floor structure without any end or side walls. Made with a steel frame and a wooden floor, platform containers are built to carry extremely heavy and oversized loads. Available sizes (length x width x height):
    • 20’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 8’6”
  • Open Container: Essentially these are standard containers, without the rigid roof. Instead, they contain a flexible tarpaulin roof, which can be removed entirely. Open containers have doors on end walls that swing out. These containers work best for transporting cargo that is over height, as the tarpaulin can be moved for crane access. These containers are available in the following sizes (length x width x height):
    • 20’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 8’6”
    • 40’ x 8’ x 9’6” (high cube)

Listed above are the most commonly used container types, however, there are various other types and sizes used for unique cargo requirements. If your cargo is unique and you are unsure if a specialized container is required, contact Ascent’s team of experts to help you identify the optimal container.  


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Topics: International Freight Forwarding