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From the gasoline used to power your car to the coffee beans in your morning latte, container shipping by way of the ocean has a bigger impact on our everyday lives than most of us realize.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), around 90% of traded goods are transported by sea. Container ships are among the largest vessels on the ocean today, with some having the capacity to transport nearly 24,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) at once.

Here, we offer a complete guide to the different types of ocean containers available, the best ways to load them, and how to ensure they’re secure for a smooth voyage.

Types of Ocean Containers

Shipping containers are available in a variety of sizes and shapes, each designed to carry specific types of ocean freight. 20 ft. and 40 ft. are the most common container specifications available, though there are other size options – like 10 ft. and 45 ft. – to cater to different needs.

The average internal width of these containers is between 7 and 8 ft., while the height is slightly over 8 ft. tall. The tare weight per container – or the weight of an empty container – ranges from approximately 4,000 pounds to more than 9,000 pounds.

The container type you choose should largely depend on what you’re shipping. Here are the most common ocean container types and what they’re used for.

Dry Containers

Dry containers are general purpose containers. They’re the most commonly used containers and are likely what comes to mind when you picture a shipping container. They’re used to transport a vast variety of dry goods, such as clothing, grain, and furniture – nothing that contains any liquid or is temperature sensitive.

Flat Rack Containers

A flat rack container can be used for irregularly-shaped cargo like construction machinery or oversized vehicles. These open-side containers have collapsible sides that allow the loading and unloading of the cargo from either the sides or the top of the container.

Reefer Containers

Reefer containers, also known as refrigerated containers, are used to transport goods that need to be chilled or frozen during shipping, such as fruits or certain pharmaceuticals. They contain temperature control systems that allow these perishable goods to be transported at precise temperatures from origin to final destination.

Open Top Containers

Open top containers are used for tall items with a lot of bulk, like scrap metal, that might not otherwise fit in intermodal containers of standard sizes. As the name suggests, these containers are open on top, which allows for easy loading of the cargo by crane. Heavy-duty tarpaulin is often secured on top instead of a standard roof to protect the cargo from natural elements while in transit.

Depending on the height of your cargo, a high-cube container might also be an option.

Ventilated Containers

Ventilated containers have ventilation systems in their walls or roofs to allow air to circulate. Improved air circulation prevents condensation and mold growth, which can help keep cargo fresh. Goods that need this extra circulation include certain agricultural products like coffee beans and spices.

Best Practices for Loading Ocean Containers

Properly loading and securing ocean cargo onto the ship will help prevent damage safety issues during the shipping journey. Here are some best practices to follow when loading your ocean containers.

Pack Containers Densely

Ocean shipping containers have a large capacity, which means there’s plenty of room for goods to shift during transport if you leave open space. Take full advantage of the container’s capacity while also being cognizant of its weight, as overweight containers can cost your company thousands of dollars in fines and court fees.

Densely packing containers doesn’t just save you money – it also helps protect the cargo. Goods are often unable to shift when packed together tightly and strategically, which is crucial for their journey across unpredictable seas.

If an ocean container can’t be packed fully, there are several types of void-fill packaging available, such as dunnage bags, that can be used to fill the empty space and absorb shock. To prevent cargo from falling out when the container doors are opened, tools like ratchet straps should also be used to keep the cargo away from the doors.

Stack Cargo According to Weight

The loading process should be well-planned before any cargo is packed for container transport. As a general rule, the heaviest items should be loaded on the floor of the shipping container while the lightest items should be stowed on top. This helps prevent items from arriving crushed or in damaged condition.

Pay Attention to Weight Distribution

In addition to considering the weight of each item being transported, it’s important to figure out how the weight of all the items combined is distributed. Boxes should be stacked in a way that evenly distributes pressure throughout the container.

Avoid stowing heavy, large boxes in a small area – this will result in an unbalanced container. Containers that are unbalanced may become damaged inside, have difficulty being lifted by crane, and can even result in regulatory penalties.

How to Secure Cargo in Ocean Containers

Not securing goods or freight containers can cause safety concerns for workers. ISO containers travel through the ocean across the world, and taking security seriously is an essential part of a smooth (and less costly) voyage. Here are a variety of tools that can be used to secure non-bulk cargo:

  • Shoring: Shoring involves using items like wooden beams or metal bars in voids to keep cargo against container walls, pallets, or other secured items.
  • Lashing: Lashing is the process of securing both cargo and containers using ropes, chains, straps, and similar items to tie them down for the journey.
  • Blocking and bracing: Blocking prevents cargo from moving front to back and side to side while bracing prevents it from moving up and down. Materials commonly used for blocking and bracing include wooden blocks and foam padding.

Check out our resource on requirements for cargo securement in the shipping industry for ideas on how to properly load your cargo.

Keep Your Ocean Containers Secure With Intermodal Shipping Logistic Services

Almost all of today’s traded goods are transported by sea in various types of ocean containers. It’s crucial to choose the right type of container for transporting goods and to ensure the goods are properly loaded and secured for a safe trip.

DSL Logistics streamlines your intermodal shipping logistics from port and rail transportation to final destination. We offer premier drayage services and tailored intermodal trucking solutions for reliable and efficient care for your cargo every step of the way. Get started today!