Sea Freight Container Types

Most people are familiar with the ‘normal’ box-type shipping container – they are seen on container ships, lorry trailers, trains and stacked up at the ports. There are actually many different types of shipping container and the type you choose will depend on your specific requirement. Here is a summary of the main types and how they are specialised for their specific role. Dimensions and tare (unladen) weights are included for the most popular types.


  1. Dry Containers

Dry Containers are available in sizes of 10, 20, and 40 feet – 20 and 40 being the most commonly used. They are used to transport general cargo and are the most commonly known type of shipping container. Basically a metal box which opens for loading / unloading at one end. They are strong, stackable and reusable. At the end of their life they are often used for lockable storage units or even made into cheap housing.


2. Folding / Collapsible Containers

A revolutionary invention – folding / collapsible containers save on storage space and transport costs when empty. See how the Treck collapsible container works here:

The world’s first one-piece steel collapsible shipping container

3. Flat Rack Containers

Flat Rack containers are available in 20 and 40 feet and have sides that can be folded down to accommodate heavy loads, over-sized cargo, construction equipment, building supplies, or heavy machinery. Typically used for cargo that needs loading from the top of sides.


4. Open Top Containers

Open Top containers are available in 20 or 40 foot sizes and have a completely removable, convertible top that allows for access to goods from the top of the container. They are mainly used for over-height cargo. They are also available as a half-height container. Many open top containers now just have a tarpaulin-type soft cover.


5. Open Side Containers

Open side containers are available in 20 or 40 foot sizes and open on the side to facilitate specific loading and unloading requirements.


6. Tunnel Containers

Tunnel containers are identical to a dry goods container but open at each end, making loading and unloading easier and quicker.


7. Swap-Body Containers

Swap Bodies are a special kind of container mainly used in Europe. These containers are not made according to the ISO standards since they are not standardised shipping containers. However, they are provided with a strong bottom and a convertible top, which makes them extremely useful for shipping many products.


8. Refrigerated ISO Containers

Refrigerated ISO Containers (also called reefer containers) regulate the temperature to preserve temperature sensitive goods such as produce or seafood.


9. Insulated or Thermal Containers

Insulated or thermal containers come with a regulated temperature control, which allows them to withstand a higher temperature. They are most suitable for long distance transportation of products.


10. Half Height Containers

Clue is in the name! These containers are half the height of a full sized dry container and they are made mostly of steel. They are primarily used for goods like coal, stones, etc. which require easy loading and unloading. Since these containers are half sized they help keep the weight per container at a reasonable amount.


11. Car Carrier Containers

Car carriers are special container storage units made for the shipment of cars over long distances. To help a car fit snugly inside the containers without risking damage, they come with collapsible sides.


12. Tank Containers

Tanks are the container type used for the transportation of liquids and are used by a huge proportion of the shipping industry. These container types are mostly made of anti-corrosive materials which provide them with long life and protect the materials being transported.


13. Drum Containers

Drums are shipping containers that are most suitable for bulk transport of liquid materials. They are made from various materials suh as steel, fibreglass, hard plastic etc. Although they are smaller in size, they may need extra space due to their non-standard shape.

Published by A Kennedy

An award winning, UK based, International Logistics Manager for a multinational tool company. Over 25 years experience in international logistics and supply chain management. Elected ‘Chartered Status’ by the CILT and ‘Expert Status’ by the IoSCM.

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