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Different Shipping Container Types and Their Uses

What Types of Shipping Containers Are Available, and What Are They Used For?

There are many different types of shipping containers available. This overview is by no means all-encompassing.Shipping containers

Container vessel sizes are normally described in terms of TEU (also written as “teu”), or Twenty-foot Equivalent Units. This approximately describes how many standard 20-foot shipping containers the vessel would be able to carry. For example, a certain vessel’s capacity may be described as 3500 teu. This is regardless of the quantity of FEU (Forty-foot Equivalent Units) or other sized containers that the vessel actually carries.

Shipping Container Sizes

Going back a number of years, the typical smallest sized shipping container available for transport was 10-foot long (or approximately 3 metres). The days of 10′ containers or less on any import or export trades are long gone.

These days the smallest size is a 20′ (or 6 metre) container – commonly referred to as a TEU, as described above. This is the most common sized shipping container (although it comes with a few variations). The next most commonly sized cargo container is a 40′ (or 12 metre) container – commonly referred to as an FEU.

Some trades and ports cater for 45′ containers, but not in Australia except for some domestic rail operators.

Types of shipping containers.

There are a variety of shipping container types, each one designed for specific types of cargo.

General Purpose (GP) containers

The vast majority of cargo is transported in GP (general purpose) cargo containers. These are fully enclosed units with doors at one end only. These containers can be 20′ or 40′ long, are 8′ wide, and normally 8’6″ high externally.

High Cube (HC) containers

HC shipping containers are 9’6″ high with similar length and width dimensions to the GP containers. HC containers are readily available for 40′ long containers, but 20’HC containers are not available from all shipping lines or all trades.

When packing your freight container you will need to consider internal dimensions, door openings and cargo weight in all cases.

Open Top containers

Open tops come as either 20′ or 40′ in length. These are similar to GP containers except that they do not have a hard fixed roof.

These are often used for machinery or similar items that can only be lifted at the shipper or the consignee by an overhead crane. Cargo can be either in or out of gauge. In gauge means that the cargo is below the height on the container, and out of gauge (OOG) means that it is higher than the actual container.

Flat Rack containers

Flat-rack containers are just that; they only comprise a container base and ends that can be either folded down or left in place. Flat rack shipping containers are mostly either 20′ or 40′ in length.

These containers are typically used for machinery or similar cargo that does not fit into GP containers. The cargo can be over-dimensional in any or all ways but still needs a method of easily transporting it. The main consideration is the securing of the cargo and subsequent lifting and handling of this type of container and cargo.

Refrigerated containers

Refrigerated shipping containers are commonly referred to as Reefer containers. These are either 20′ or 40′ insulated units with a refrigeration unit that can be set at a temperature suitable for the cargo. For example, a container is set for hard frozen for products such as ice-cream, but y temperature-controlled for products including wine, beer, or other dairy products.

ISO tanks

ISO tanks are always 20′ cylindrical tanks in a square framework to fit into the vessel slots. These are commonly used for commodities such as wine in bulk, or chemicals in bulk, and can also be temperature controlled to suit the cargo.


How do you access a shipping container?

That is where SPLS can help. If you need to import or export cargo of any type, come and speak with us regarding a shipping plan.

If you are interested in learning more you can also read our article on whether to rent or buy a shipping container when transporting goods overseas.