The ABC of Loading Freight Containers

How should you load a container so that your goods inside will remain intact during transport?

There is a common misconception that a shipping container gives ample protection during transport regardless of the circumstances. People also often presume that shipping containers can be filled to the brim as long as the double doors are able to close properly.

Unfortunately, the reality is more complex than that.

This blog post is about helping you avoid mistakes we’ve seen people make during our many years in the container business. We will also shed light on the headaches and actual dangers that poorly loaded shipping containers can cause in different phases of the logistics chain.

Keep reading or jump straight to the topic that interests you the most:

What you should consider when loading a shipping container

How to choose the right container

Should I use pallets?

How to load goods inside a container

Loading principles of cargo ships

The Basics of Goods Transport

The packing of goods and eventual transportation of the container should be planned carefully. Thinking in advance will save you money and many frowns in the later stages of your project.

What to consider when packing a shipping container:

  • The quality of goods – electrical devices or items made of wood or fabric?
  • The quantity of goods – enough to fill dozens of containers or only one pallet?
  • The chosen means of transport – by sea, road or railroad?
  • The length of the transport – to a neighboring town or to the other side of the world?
  • Temperature changes during transport – from the arctic circle to the equator or within Central Europe?

Freight-worthy Transport Unit

Naturally, the most important component for safe transportation is the chosen transport unit. If the goods will be transported by sea, it is usually a shipping container.

Choosing the right container depends entirely on what you’re planning to transport inside it. The most common freight containers are the 20′ (6 METERS), 40′ (12M) and 45′ (13,5M) SHIPPING CONTAINERS. These standard containers have one set of double doors at one short end that can be used for loading and unloading. Additionally, there are special models such as the DOUBLE DOOR SHIPPING CONTAINERs as well as OPENSIDE CONTAINERS and shipping containers with tarpaulin walls or ceilings that give you even more angles for loading. More info and measurements regarding each container type can be found on our website.

Shipping containers come in different conditions, but for sea freight, you are going to need a freight-worthy container with a valid CSC plate.

The CSC plate reveals a lot of useful information about the container, including the date for the next CSC inspection. The plate also shows the Max Payload, i.e. the max weight of the cargo that can be packed inside, as well as the Max Gross Weight, i.e. the joint total weight of the container itself and the cargo inside. These are all important numbers when it comes to loading your container for freight.

Tip 1

Those of you who take care of loading a shipping container by yourself: Estimate the weight of the goods inside as accurately as you can beforehand so that your container will not be stopped at the first port. If the weight exceeds the Max Payload of your container, the container will be unloaded and repacked inside another container in the port, and normally any work that takes place inside the port area is very expensive.  

Notice also that there are ordinary shipping containers as well as so-called heavy-duty shipping containers that can suffice much heavier loads due to their structure.

Tip 2

This tip goes to those of you who live in a climate with big seasonal temperature fluctuations. If you plan to load a container during the colder months, please be advised to place a piece of wood under each corner of the container. This will lift the container off the ground and thus prevent the container from getting stuck because of ice.

Pallets make handling easier

Using pallets in packing a container makes moving, transporting and handling goods easier and safer for everyone involved.

Read our quick tips on loading your pallets the correct way. Following these tips will not only make transportation faster but also help prevent transport damage.

  1. If you send more than one box, please always use a pallet.
  2. Pack bags first inside boxes and then on a pallet. Always use sturdy boxes that are meant for transport.
  3. Attach boxes to the pallets using e.g. self-adhesive cellophane. Notice that the boxes need to be attached directly to the pallet and that the edges of the packed goods should not go over the edges of the pallet.
  4. This tip applies especially to trucking: If you want to save on transport costs, please make sure that the pallets are flat at the top. In this case, you should also let the haulage company know that you consent to them stacking pallets on top of yours.
  5. Always place heavy goods in the middle of the pallet and as close to the pallet itself as possible. If the weight on the pallet is not placed at the center, remember to mark it on the pallet and report it to the transport company. Additionally, you should mark where the pallet should be lifted and moved.
  6. If the packed goods cannot bear temperature changes, place dehumidifiers, desiccants and aluminum foil inside the packages. Let the haulage company also know if the goods they’re transporting can’t stand the cold.
  7. If the packed goods are valuable, confirm in advance from your insurance company that they accept the packing materials you’re using.
  8. When you’re sending dangerous goods, remember to always follow the regulations given by authorities regarding package markings and the required packing materials.
  9. Attach the shipper and consignee address labels to each box at the top and at least on two sides. This will make handling the boxes remarkably faster, and make sure that the separate boxes will find the right address even if the pallet itself needs to be disassembled during transport.
  10. If the consignee has their own order number, attach it next to the address label. Also, make sure that the delivery note is easily accessible.
  11. Place the boxes on the pallet so that all the information (address labels, order numbers, delivery notes) is visible on the outside.
  12. Note that different means of transport like airfreight, sea freight, road haulage etc. have their own requirements concerning packing.

You can either load and unload pallets and containers by yourself or you can get this as a TURNKEY SERVICE FROM THE PROS. Whichever choice you make, remember to take these instructions into consideration when planning your next container shipment.

How to load a shipping container

When loading goods inside a shipping container, it’s important to keep in mind that nothing should fall off when the doors are opened. For this reason, there are several lashing points inside standard shipping containers that you can use to secure your cargo in place.

The biggest challenge when packing a container is taking into consideration that the weight distribution inside the container should be as balanced as possible.

Tip 3

The sender should always indicate to the transport company if the weight of the cargo is not equally distributed. While a slight imbalance may not hinder the transportation, it is good for the transport personnel to be aware of it so that the container won’t fall, bend or get otherwise damaged during the lift. Also, the machines used to lift containers react immediately to an imbalanced load.

When planning to move a full container, you should always consider the current placement of the container and where it is going to be dropped off at the destination.

Tip 4

If you’re responsible for arranging transportation for a loaded container, remember to always ask for a side loader delivery. With this delivery method, you also need to remember to leave enough space next to the container so that the truck can easily fit beside it during the lifting process. 

Extra costs and anxiety are often caused by ordering the wrong lifting equipment in the first place. READ MORE ABOUT THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF TRUCKS THAT ARE USUALLY USED FOR TRANSPORTING CONTAINERS.

Loading Principles of Cargo Ships

Every shipping container onboarding a cargo ship is weighed at the port of departure. This way, everyone in the logistics chain will know the total weight of the container including its cargo.

The weigh-in at the port makes a big difference to the overall safety of cargo shipping. The total weight of the container determines which part of the ship the container shall be located in. The rule of thumb is that the heavier the container, the lower it’s going to sit during the voyage.

The placement of the container also depends on what’s inside it. For example, combustible substances will be separated from flammable materials and placed as far away from the crew quarters as possible. 

After the containers have been lifted on board according to the plan, the containers on top of each other will be attached together with container locks. The top container row is usually secured by using lashing bars.

Cargo ships are steady most of the time but some special circumstances may cause containers to fall overboard. For example, the poorly known phenomenon called ”parametric rolling” may cause the ship to sway from side to side and up and down in an uncontrolled manner.

Goods that are able to roll around inside containers present a safety threat to the freight carrier. In the worst-case scenario, the whole ship may capsize if the goods inside the containers take the opposite motion to the ship’s movement.

Tip 5

Outside of these force majeure situations, the best tip is very simple: Be extra careful when loading a shipping container for international freight. Always play by the regulations and attach the goods inside to each other and to the lashing points to prevent any unnecessary movement during sea transport. Securing the goods in their place will also reduce the risk of things breaking inside the container. 

If the container is meant to travel a long way, it is useful to consider the sorts of temperature changes that the container will undergo during the trip. If the container boards a cargo ship for example in Scandinavia during the cold winter months, the container as well as the goods inside are most likely cold. As the cargo ship then continues its way toward Central Europe and beyond, the outer temperature rises, and the coldness of the container condenses into moisture on the surfaces.

Tip 6

To prevent condensed water from building inside freight containers, we recommend the use of DESICCANTS. If you’re transporting electronics or other items that are particularly sensitive to moisture, it’s also worth it to cover the products with e.g. tarpaulin/plastic to prevent the condensed moisture from dripping down from the ceiling and straight onto the products. It is also useful to give the most important surfaces a coat of oil/silicone to prevent water from damaging the surfaces.

The safety of container shipments is a joint venture for the whole logistics industry, all the way from loading to handling, transportation and unloading.

If you need further assistance, don’t hesitate to CONTACT US. We provide a multitude of SERVICES ranging from container sales and rentals to loading, warehousing and forwarding.

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