Most people only see brightly colored steel boxes stacked on top of each other when they see containers onboard a ship. Even if there does not seem to be any discernible difference between the various containers, the reality is there are quite a few different types, each with its unique features and use. Exporters need to know the details of each type of container so that they can select the right one and avoid costly mistakes that can compromise the safe and timely delivery of the cargo. Some vital information all exporters need to know about containers:

Container Overview

Containers are undoubtedly among the biggest developments in ocean freight. According to The World Economic Forum, some 60% of the global maritime trade is carried in containers. While there are several types of containers classified according to size and use, typically all container sizes are measured in feet. Normally, all shipping containers use corrugated steel for the sides and the top while the bottom is wooden. You need to be extra careful to ensure that your cargo is not so heavy that it breaks the wooden planks or plywood of the container floor.

Popular Types of Ship Containers

Standard Ocean shipping container:

These containers are completely enclosed with a rigid roof, walls, and floor and have a door at one end for loading. These containers carry most of the global ocean breakbulk cargo, packed in boxes, bags, pallets, bales, etc. Strangely, most people do not know that a 20-foot and 40-foot container both carry the same weight, but you can cram in more cargo in the larger variant. If you have taller goods, you can think of using a 40-foot high cube container that is one foot taller than the standard ones.

Hardtop containers:

Used to transport heavier cargo, hardtop containers have removable steel roofs that allow easy loading with cranes. You can even swing out the door headers on the end walls. You can carry extra tall cargo by leaving the top of the container open with the items lashed to the sides of the container. The dimensions of 20 container are 20’ x 8’ x 8’6”. Other standard sizes are 40’ x 8’ x 8’6” and 40’ x 8’ x 9’6” (high cube).

Flat rack containers:

These are containers with steel frames, collapsible or fixed end walls but no sidewalls. Generally, the floors are very strong because these containers carry bulky, heavy, or oversize cargo. These containers come in standard sizes. A variant called a platform container meant for carrying very heavy cargo has only a steel frame without any side or end walls.

Open top containers:

These are again standard containers but without a rigid roof. Instead, the roof is a tarp supported by removable or movable bows. The door header swings out. These containers are available in all three standard sizes and are ideal for over-height, bulky, and heavy cargo.


In addition to the above three types of general containers, you can also use refrigerated containers or reefers to transport perishable items that need to be kept cold. You can also use insulated containers that use the ship’s system to regulate the temperature.


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