Different Types of Containers

This post is an excerpt from my new e-book Importing Containers
Everything you need to get started and excel in the ocean freight industry.

Containers come in all different sizes and types. They range from 10ft all the way up to 53ft and come in various heights. Some are custom designed for specialized cargo like refrigerated items or break-bulk.

A majority of containers are either 20ft or 40ft, with the occasional 45ft mixed in. They are utilized so frequently, that there are two terms that describe them - TEU and FEU. A TEU is a 20ft equivalent unit or a 20ft container regardless of size. The TEU is the basis shipping lines use to determine capacity and space utilization as well as rates, quotes, and tariffs. A FEU is a 40ft equivalent unit is essentially a 40ft container which counts as 2 TEU's. 45's are usually considered one FEU.

There are different heights as well. A standard height is 8ft-6in and a high-cube is 9ft-6in tall. Most shippers use high-cubes for their cargo as there is more space in the container. However, if you are hipping a high density object and will not fill the container to the roof, a standard might be a better choice.

In addition to a standard container, also considered a dry van, there are a litany of specialized containers.

  • Refrigerated "Reefer" - These can hold any type of cold cargo like produce, meat, dairy, ice cream, etc. These specialized containers are charged a premium by the shipping lines since the commodities are typically valued higher.
  • Flat rack - These are containers without sides and foldable ends that is designed for out of gauge cargo (cargo bigger than a standard container) or for pieces that are difficult to load in the end of a container. These are best used for large equipment like tractors or other heavy machinery or for large lumber pieces.
  • Open top - These are containers that do not have a roof built in. Their roofs are usually a canvas or vinyl like tarp, occasionally they may have a hard top that is removable. They are good for equipment that can be lifted in, may be too tall, or for bulk type shipments where items are poured in.
  • Open side - Just like open tops, these have a vinyl or hard side that can be opened for easier or custom cargo loading. They are ideal for cargo that needs to be lifted in on the side but you want to ensure water tight integrity.
  • Tanks - Like the name suggests, these are tanks that have a frame wended around them. They are good for shipping liquids. Some tanks are fitted for concrete transport and distribution - perfect for remote construction projects.
  • Insulated / Keep From Freezing - These are similar to the refrigerated containers. They are insulated to minimize heat transfer between inside and outside. The Keep From Freezing or KFF is is unit that can be plugged in to keep the contents from freezing. They are useful for delicate items that are being shipped to or through colder regions.
  • Half height - Like the name, they are a fraction of the size of a standard container. They are ideal for low volume, high density objects like steel.

There are many many more types of containers in the world however, most shippers use standard or high-cube dry containers.

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