The Care in Loading Quality Open Top Shipping Containers

To each person – or company – shipping the contents of their container is precious. That means if they’re sending furniture, socks, electronics or life-saving medical equipment, it is critical, vital and very important. And it is the shipping or freight company’s responsibility to take care of the contents as if it all belonged to them. Sure, there’s a financial responsibility (the person or company is after all, paying to ship their items to land(s) faraway), but there’s also a business obligation, and a reputation to uphold. The bottom line: a shipping company must do all in its power to ensure that contained products arrive in the same condition they were shipped, and do so at the prescribed time.

An open-top container is differentiated from a standard container, a tank container, a flat container and a refrigerated container. An open-top container has, as one might imagine, an open roof and is designed to carry cargo too large to be loaded through standard container doors.

Given their large, cumbersome size, machinery is often shipped in open-top containers. Items are loaded from the top, but fret not; items are not left open and exposed to the elements. A tarpaulin is used to cover contents. Precious cargo is still protected!

Is there sufficient dunnage to support the cargo? Dunnage is the loose material that protects cargo, and is also used to refer to the padding in a shipping container.

Will they ensure that the payload will not be exceeded? Payload is the maximum permitted mass or weight of cargo contents (and includes dunnage and securements).

Is the shipping company fully aware of the rating of each container? Rating is the container’s max gross mass or weight _plus _contents. For a 20′ dry container (TEU), the rating is 24,000 kgs. Or 52,900 lbs. For a 40′ dry container (FEU) the rating is 30,480 kgs or 67,200 lbs.

Has the shipper (company or person) asked the shipping company what the tare is? Tare is the mass or weight of an empty container. For example, a TEU may weight 1,800 kgs to 2,400 kgs and a FEU may weigh 2,800 kgs to 4,000 kgs. A high FEU dry cargo container may weigh 3,900 kgs to 4,200 kgs. This is important information so the person or company sending product will know their maximum payload.

That said; there are many essential elements to consider when loading quality open top shipping containers.

The first is obvious: is there a substantial crane in place to physically load the item above and into the open-top container?

But equally as important: Will the item fit in the container? Remember, a high FEU measures 40′ and already weighs 3,900 kgs to 4,200 kgs. You know what they say, always measure twice.

What is the time frame? When does the item need to arrive at its destination? When will it be delivered? How long will it take to load and pack dunnage? What compensation – if any – is the shipping company going to award the sender if there are delays? Is the shipping company offering delivery guarantees?

What is the route for the item/container? What are the vehicles –will it be ship only or a combination of ship and rail? Which hubs will the item go through? What are the issues with customs at each new international stop?

Cargo must be loaded properly, or enclosed goods can be damaged. Also, customs may examine the container if an x-ray shows improper or unprofessional packing – there is a strong suspicion that items may be concealed. An intensive examination will surely cause additional delays and significant expenses, especially if any kind of money-back guarantee was offered to the customer.

Key Factors

Weight Distribution (spread evenly; densely concentrated weight should be distributed with bedding; Rating – Tare = Payload [see below]. For example, don’t stack to top on the back half, even everything out.)

Space Utilization (use the whole space of the container, wall-to-wall, use dunnage for empty spaces; packing tightly keeps cargo secure. You can also use straps.)

Cargo Variation & Compatibility (conscientious shippers are fully aware of how and where items are stored; weight, size, density and properties such as solid or liquid – and even odors – must be considered; seemingly non-fragile items can still be damaged if not loaded properly; always load heaviest items first, on a bottom layer, never load heavy on light; load high-density items together and not adjacent to low-density packages. Cushion between items and in any voids. If you fill voids with dunnage, it will prevent movement and chafing damage. Never place wet containers over dry. If you’re placing wet and dry items on the same level, raise the dry cargo off the ground to prevent damage in case of leakage. If you stack, make cargo tiers level.)

Carefully planning needs to be done well in advance, long before the actual product is loaded into the container.

The shipping company must be aware of any special laws and regulations there is a responsibility. Shipping companies must be in compliance with the shipping of hazardous materials. (Hazardous material regulations can be found in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.)

Shipping containers (also called intermodal containers and ISO containers) are a revelation – items not only can be produced inexpensively overseas and subsequently shipped internationally. But maybe most significantly, items that might never organically appear in another country can be sent with (relative) ease, in a system fully developed post World War II. Transportation costs are reduced, trade flourished and globalization was fully realized.

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