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A SHIPPER’S GUIDE TO CONTAINER TYPES & DIMENSIONS

 

Container shipping is the most economical transportation mode for your cargo. Fitted on ships, trains and trucks, the humble container redefined international shipping and allowed global trade to expand to the levels we know today.

Which container type is the most suitable for your cargo? Is it large enough to fit? The Freight Forwarding Experts take stock of the most common equipment types, so you can make the right decision.

A Short History of Shipping Containers

The idea of a shipping container first came from England at the close of the 18th century. The early iteration of the container did not resemble their modern counterparts: they were rectangular wooden boxes, mostly used to transport coal.

The container as we know it came to existence in 1955 in the USA when Malcom McLean, together with engineer Keith Tantlinger, developed a module made of corrugated steel. Its structure allowed to move the boxes using cranes and stack them on top of each other –the first modern intermodal container was born. On April 26th, 1956, the Ideal X tanker, converted into a container ship for the occasion, made its first voyage from Newark, New Jersey to Houston, Texas.

After the apparition of containers, the lack of common standards became problematic, as various sizes and systems remained in use for the two following decades. Clear sizing requirements for each container type were subsequently agreed upon and enforced through the ISO standard. As a consequence, shipping containers are often referred to as ISO containers.

Standard Container Types & ISO Dimensions

Durable and multi functional, they are the most common freight unit for sea transportation. They are referred to as “dry”: they are not suitable for the transportation of liquids, as opposed to some of the specialised types explored below. Twenty-foot and forty-foot containers are the most common sizes. They are designed for any type of transport – sea or land. High cube containers are taller and thus offer more capacity for larger cargo.

External dimensions, minimum internal dimensions, and maximal weight (i.e. including cargo) are fixed by the ISO 668 standard. Tare weight, actual internal dimensions, and other measures will however differ from one model and manufacturer to the other

  • ISO reference 1CC – the standard 20-foot container

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    6.058 m x 2.591 m x 2.438 m

    19' 10.5" x 8' 6" x 8' 0"

    Minimum Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    5.867 m x 2.350 m x 2.330 m

    19' 3" x 7' 8.5" x 7' 7.73"

    Approx. Doorway Dimensions (w x h)

    2.330 m x 2.260 m

    7’ 7” x 7’ 5”

    Approx. Tare Weight

    2,500 kg

    2,250 kg

    Approx. Max Payload

    28,230 kg

    62,240 lbs

    Max. Weight

    30,480  kg

    67,200  lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    33 m3


    ISO reference 1CCC – high cube 20-foot container

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    6.058 m x 2.896m x 2.438 m

    19’ 10.5” x 8’ 6” x 8’ 0”

    Minimum Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    5.867 m x 2.655 m x 2.330 m

    19’ 3” x 8’ 8.5” x 7’ 7.73”

    Approx. Doorway Dimensions (w x h)

    2.330 m x 2.590 m

    7’ 7” x 8’ 6”

    Approx. Tare Weight

    2,320 kg

    5,120 lbs

    Approx. Max Payload

    28,160 kg

    62,080 lbs

    Max. Weight

    30,480 kg

    67,200 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    37 m3

     


  • ISO reference 1AA – the standard 40-foot container

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    12.192 m x 2.591 m x 2.438 m

    40' 0" x 8' 6" x 8' 0"

    Minimum Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    11.998 m x 2.350 m x 2.330 m

    39' 4.375" x 7' 8.5" x 7' 7.73"

    Approx. Doorway Dimension (w x h)

    2,330 m x 2.590 m

    7’ 7” x 7’ 5”

    Approx. Tare Weight

    3,740 kg

    8,250 lbs

    Approx. Max Payload

    26,740 kg

    58,950 lbs

    Max. Weight

    30,480 kg

    67,200 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    66 m3

     

    ISO reference 1AAA – high cube 40-foot container

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    12.192 m x 2.896 m x 2.438 m

    40' 0" x 9' 6" x 8' 0"

    Minimum Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    11.998 m x 2.655 m x 2.330 m

    39' 4.375" x 8' 8.5" x 7' 7.73"

    Approx. Doorway Dimensions (w x h)

    2.330 m x 2.590 m

    7’ 7” x 8’ 6”

    Approx. Tare Weight

    4,150 kg

    9,150 lbs

    Approx. Max Payload

    26,330 kg

    58,050 lbs

    Max. Weight

    30,480 kg

    67,200 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    76 m3

  • 45-Foot containers generally come in high-cube format, and are the largest container type commonly used.

    1 EEE – 45-foot High Cube

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    13.716 m x 2.896 m x 2.438 m

    45' 0" x 9' 6" x 8' 0"

    Minimum Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    13.542 m x 2.655 m x 2.330 m

    44' 5.15" x 8' 8 1/2" x 7' 7 3/4"

    Approx. Doorway Dimensions (w x h)

    2.340 m x 2,597 m

    7’ 8” x 6’ 2”

    Approx. Tare Weight

    4,280 kg

    9,440 lbs

    Approx. Max Payload

    26,500 kg

    57,760 lbs

    Max Weight

    30,480 kg

    67,200 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    86 m3

    ISO reference 1AAA – high cube 40-foot container

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    12.192 m x 2.896 m x 2.438 m

    40' 0" x 9' 6" x 8' 0"

    Minimum Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    11.998 m x 2.655 m x 2.330 m

    39' 4.375" x 8' 8.5" x 7' 7.73"

    Approx. Doorway Dimensions (w x h)

    2.330 m x 2.590 m

    7’ 7” x 8’ 6”

    Approx. Tare Weight

    4,150 kg

    9,150 lbs

    Approx. Max Payload

    26,330 kg

    58,050 lbs

    Max. Weight

    30,480 kg

    67,200 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    76 m3

Will Your Cargo Fit?

Refrigerated Containers Types & Dimensions

Also called reefers, refrigerated containers are used for goods that require temperature regulation like food, electronics or medication. Their built-in engine maintains their internal temperature between -25 and +25⁰C and requires the containers to be connected to a power source in order to guarantee consistent thermal performance.

The size and weight of the engine will influence the exact tare weight and cubic volume capacity, which can thus significantly differ from one model and manufacturer to the other

  • 20-foot Refrigerated containers

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    6.058 m x 2.591 m x 2.438 m

    19' 10.5" x 8' 6" x 8' 0"

    Example Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    5.450 m x 2.263 m x 2.290 m

    17’ 10 1/3” x 7’ 1/10” x 7’ 6 1/5"

    Example Doorway Dimensions (w x h)

    2.290 m x 2.252 m

    7’ 6 1/5" x 7’ 4 3/4"

    Example Tare Weight

    2,840 kg

    6,260 lbs

    Example Max Payload

    27,640 kg

    60,940 lbs

    Example Max Gross Weight

    30,480 kg

    67,200 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    28 m3


    40-foot Refrigerated containers are commonly found in the high cube format.

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    12.192 m x 2.896 m x 2.438 m

    40' 0" x 9' 6" x 8' 0"

    Example Internal Dimensions  (l x h x w)

    11.583 m x 2.545 m x 2.290 m

    38’ x  8’ 4 1/5” x 7’ 6 1/5"

    Example Doorway Dimensions (w x h)

    2.290 m x 2.557 m

    7’ 6 1/5" x 8’ 4 3/4"

    Example Tare Weight

    4,330 kg

    9,560 lbs

    Approx. Max Payload

    29,670 kg

    65,410 lbs

    Max Weight

    34,000 kg

    74,960 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    68 m3


    Dimensions from Maersk Container Industry’s Star Cool Containers.

  • Ventilated containers are no different from standard 20-foot containers, including their size, except for the opening gaps for supplying air to the container. Such containers are used to transport goods that require a continued airflow during transportation: cereals, vegetables, tea, coffee…

Other Specialised Containers

Shipping containers come in all shapes and sizes to match any cargo type and dimensions.

  • Tank containers, a reinforced frame nesting a tank, specialise in the transport of food, oil, fuel & chemical liquids. Such containers are easy to load and reliably retain even flammable contents.

    A 20-foot tank container will typically hold up to 26,000 liters of liquid, while its 40-foot equivalent can host up to 48,000 liters. Their dimensions match that of classic 20- and 40-foot containers:

    20-foot tank container dimensions

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    6.058 m x 2.591 m x 2.438 m

    19' 10.5" x 8' 6" x 8' 0"

    Max Weight

    30,480  kg

    67,200  lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    26 m3


    40-foot tank container dimensions

    External Dimensions (l x h x w)

    12.192 m x 2.591 m x 2.438 m

    40' 0" x 8' 6" x 8' 0"

    Max Weight

    30,480 kg

    67,200 lbs

    Approx. Cubic volume

    48 m3

     

  • Flat racks are platform containers for out-of-gauge cargo. They are usually shown with two side walls, but can also feature no paneling at all. Their exact dimensions will vary depending on the manufacturer and paneling solution, but they do come in 20- and 40-foot versions like any ISO container.

  • Open-top containers follow a similar principle, but do feature four side panels and a soft tarpaulin top and also allow for the transportation of bulk cargo. They are best suited for cargo that requires crane loading from the top of the container, or that contains taller items. They exist in 20-foot and 40-foot versions, thus featuring similar dimensions to the ISO 1CC and 1AA standards explored above.

  • Side-door and double-door containers make it easier to access specific pieces of cargo without offloading the entire container. In the specific case of side-door containers moreover, stuffing larger pieces of cargo – such as wood timber – is made easier as it can be rolled in from the side. 

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