Dry Container Shipments: A Safe and Secure Way to Transport Goods

Dry container shipments are the prevailing and widely used method of container shipping. These containers serve as essential vessels for transporting a diverse range of goods, encompassing clothing, electronics, furniture, and machinery, among others. Constructed predominantly from steel, dry containers are meticulously designed to facilitate stacking, allowing for efficient transportation and storage during transit. Their versatility and practicality have solidified their position as the go-to choice for transporting goods across various industries and global trade routes.

dry container shipments

History of Dry Container Shipments

In the early 1950s, Malcolm McLean’s visionary idea of using containers for cargo transport revolutionized shipping. By streamlining loading and unloading, this innovation brought newfound efficiency to the industry, shaping the modern container shipping we know today.

In 1956, Malcolm McLean established Sea-Land Container Line, becoming the pioneer in providing containerized shipping services. The company made its inaugural container shipment in 1957, originating from Newark, New Jersey, and reaching its destination in Houston, Texas. This historic event marked the beginning of a new era in global logistics, revolutionizing the way goods are transported and setting the stage for the widespread adoption of containerized shipping worldwide.

Container shipping’s popularity surged, and by the early 1970s, most major shipping lines worldwide adopted containerized services. Today, dry container shipments remain dominant, playing a crucial role in the efficient facilitation of global trade and commerce.

What are Dry Container Shipments?

Dry container shipments are a reliable and efficient way to transport goods globally. Standardized steel or aluminum containers ensure safe and secure transportation of diverse cargo. Solid and sealed walls protect against weather, dust, and unauthorized access. The uniformity streamlines logistics, simplifying loading and unloading at ports and during transit, reducing handling time and cargo damage risk.

Process of Dry Container Shipments

The process of dry container shipments involves several steps. Let’s break down the process:

Booking and Documentation

The shipment process begins with booking the container space with a shipping line or a freight forwarder. Proper documentation, including the bill of lading and commercial invoice, is prepared to comply with international regulations.

When making a container booking, you will be required to furnish the shipping line with the following details:

  • Origin and destination ports
  • Container size
  • Shipment date
  • Type of goods being shipped
  • Weight of the goods
  • Value of the goods

Loading and Stowage

After the container is selected, the goods are appropriately packed and loaded into the container. Efficient stowage is crucial to maximize space and prevent cargo shifting during transit.

There are two main types of container packing: Full Container Load (FCL) and Less-than-container Load (LCL).

  • Full Container Load (FCL) continues to be the preferred option for numerous businesses and industries seeking a safe, efficient, and dependable method to transport goods across international borders. This shipping method ensures that the entire container is exclusively dedicated to the cargo of a single shipper, offering greater control and security over the goods being transported. With FCL, businesses can maximize container space, leading to cost-effective and streamlined logistics for sizable shipments.
  • Less-than-container Load (LCL) shipping combines goods from multiple shippers into a single container, making it ideal for smaller shipments. This cost-effective option allows sharing container space, reducing transportation expenses for businesses and individuals with limited cargo volumes.

Sealing the container

The seal ensures the integrity and security of the cargo during transit. It serves as a tamper-evident measure, giving assurance that the goods remain untouched from the time of loading until they reach their destination.

Transit and Transportation

Once loaded, the container embarks on its journey through various transportation modes, such as trucks, trains, and ships. The container may pass through several transshipment hubs before reaching its final destination.

Port Handling and Customs Clearance

When the container reaches the port of departure, it undergoes essential handling procedures, which include security checks and customs clearance. Customs authorities meticulously verify the cargo and its accompanying documentation to ensure compliance with regulations before authorizing its loading onto the vessel.

Inland Transportation at Destination

The container is then transported from the destination port to the consignee’s location or a designated delivery point.

Container Unloading

The cargo is carefully unloaded from the container, ensuring proper handling to avoid any damage.

Return of Empty Container

Once the cargo is removed, the empty container is returned to the shipping line’s designated container yard or depot.

Types of Dry Containers

The standard dry container

The standard dry container is the prevailing type extensively utilized in international shipping. It is a weatherproof and sealed container made of steel or aluminum, featuring a door at one end. These containers come in lengths of 20 or 40 feet and are employed for transporting a diverse range of goods, such as clothing, electronics, furniture, and machinery.

High Cube Containers

High Cube containers are similar to standard containers but offer extra height, usually around 9 feet 6 inches, providing more space for taller cargo.

Open-Top containers

Open-Top containers have an open roof covered with a removable tarpaulin, allowing for easy loading and unloading of goods from the top.

Flat Rack containers

Flat Rack containers have collapsible sides, making them ideal for shipping heavy or oversized cargo that cannot fit inside a standard container.

Refrigerated Containers (Reefer)

Refrigerated containers, also known as reefers, are specially designed with cooling systems to transport perishable goods at regulated temperatures. While resembling standard dry containers in structure, they are equipped with a refrigeration unit that ensures a constant temperature is maintained within the container during transportation.

Tank containers

Tank containers are utilized for transporting liquids. While resembling standard dry containers in structure, they feature a cylindrical tank rather than a boxy interior. This design enables the transportation of significant quantities of liquid goods, such as oil, chemicals, and food products.

Combi Container

A combi container is a versatile shipping container designed to transport both dry and liquid goods. Resembling a standard dry container, it comes with a removable floor, enabling its conversion into a tank container. This adaptability makes it a flexible and cost-effective solution for transporting a wide range of goods.

Open Side Container

An open side container is a shipping container with a large opening on one side, allowing easy access and loading of cargo, especially oversized or bulky items. Available in different lengths, typically 20 or 40 feet, they come in open top or closed top configurations. Open side containers are ideal for transporting construction materials like lumber and pipes, as well as agricultural goods such as hay and silage. They are also suitable for businesses transporting temperature-sensitive goods like food and beverages.

The busiest dry container shipping routes and hubs in the world:

  • The Trans-Pacific route: This route connects Asia with North America. It is the busiest container shipping route in the world, handling over 20 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo annually. The major ports on this route include Shanghai, Ningbo-Zhoushan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong in China; Los Angeles and Long Beach in the United States; and Vancouver in Canada.
  • The Europe-Asia route: This route connects Europe with Asia. It is the second busiest container shipping route in the world, handling over 15 million TEUs of cargo annually. The major ports on this route include Rotterdam in the Netherlands; Hamburg in Germany; Antwerp in Belgium; and Le Havre in France; in Europe; and Shanghai, Ningbo-Zhoushan, and Singapore in Asia.
  • The Transatlantic route: This route connects North America with Europe. It is the third busiest container shipping route in the world, handling over 10 million TEUs of cargo annually. The major ports on this route include New York, New Jersey, and Miami in the United States; and Algeciras, Valencia, and Barcelona in Spain.
  • The Middle East-Europe route: This route connects the Middle East with Europe. It is a major route for the transportation of oil and gas. The major ports on this route include Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg in Europe; and Dubai, Jebel Ali, and Dammam in the Middle East.
  • The South America-North America route: The route links South America to North America and serves as a significant corridor for transporting agricultural products. Key ports along this route include Santos in Brazil, New York, New Jersey, and Miami in the United States, and Balboa in Panama.

Challenges in Dry Container Shipments

Container shortages: As container shortages persist, the shipping industry continues to grapple with the impacts of these challenges. Efforts to address the issue include manufacturers ramping up production and shipping lines exploring alternative solutions to alleviate the scarcity. However, restoring equilibrium to the container market takes time and coordination among various stakeholders.

Port congestion: Port congestion: Port congestion poses a significant challenge in various regions globally. Increased shipping volumes, labor shortages, and adverse weather conditions contribute to this issue. As a result, shipping delays and higher costs become prevalent, affecting the efficiency of maritime trade and logistics operations.

Weather delays: Weather can also cause delays in dry container shipments. This is especially true for shipments that are crossing oceans or traveling through areas with extreme weather conditions. Weather delays can add to shipping costs and make it difficult to meet delivery deadlines.

Security risks: Security risks are a concern for dry container shipments, as they can be susceptible to theft, pilferage, and damage. Employing security measures like seals, locks, and tracking devices helps to mitigate these risks effectively.

Compliance issues: Staying up-to-date with compliance issues is crucial for companies involved in dry container shipments. Customs regulations dictate the proper documentation and declaration of goods, while import/export regulations govern the legal movement of goods between countries. Additionally, environmental regulations focus on ensuring sustainable and eco-friendly practices throughout the shipping process.

Sustainability and Innovations in Dry Container Shipping

Use of renewable energy

The adoption of renewable energy in dry container shipping reflects a growing commitment towards sustainability and environmental responsibility within the industry. Harnessing wind power through innovative technologies like wind-assisted propulsion systems allows ships to reduce their reliance on conventional fossil fuels. Similarly, solar power installations on vessel decks and containers provide an efficient way to generate clean energy during voyages.

Development of more fuel-efficient ships

The maritime industry is witnessing a growing focus on the development of fuel-efficient ships. Advancements in technologies, like streamlined hull designs to minimize drag and more efficient propulsion systems, are at the forefront of this trend. By embracing fuel-efficient ships, the dry container shipping sector can make significant strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful pollutants, contributing to a greener and more sustainable shipping industry.

Use of new technologies

By embracing these new technologies, the dry container shipping sector can make substantial progress towards achieving sustainability goals, ultimately benefiting the environment, businesses, and consumers worldwide. Continued collaboration between industry stakeholders, research institutions, and policymakers will be vital in driving the adoption and implementation of these innovative solutions.

Some of these innovative advancements include:

  • Smart Container Tracking Systems: Utilizing IoT sensors and GPS technology, these systems provide real-time visibility during transit, improving supply chain management, reducing theft, and optimizing routing for more efficient operations.
  • Electric and Hybrid Propulsion: The development of cleaner energy sources, like electricity and hybrid fuels, is gaining momentum, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions and improved vessel environmental performance.
  • Automation and Robotics: Increasingly integrated into port operations, automated cranes, sorting systems, and autonomous vehicles streamline cargo movements, cut costs, and minimize container terminal carbon footprints.
  • Sustainable Materials and Design: Sustainable materials and design in shipping reduce the ecological footprint, using eco-friendly materials and recyclable containers. Prioritizing sustainability in the industry protects the environment and meets growing consumer demands for eco-conscious practices in the supply chain.
  • Energy Efficiency Solutions: These energy efficiency solutions implemented by ship designers play a vital role in reducing the environmental impact of shipping. By optimizing hull designs, propellers, and onboard systems, ships can operate more efficiently, consuming less fuel and emitting fewer harmful pollutants.
  • Alternative Fuels: Ongoing research and development explores biofuels, hydrogen, and ammonia, aiming to significantly reduce carbon emissions and foster a more environmentally friendly shipping industry.
  • Blockchain technology: Blockchain technology enhances the transparency and traceability of goods in the supply chain. It records every transaction and transfer securely in an immutable ledger accessible to authorized parties. This decentralized approach ensures tamper-proof and trustworthy information throughout the shipping process.

Tips for Efficient Dry Container Shipments

  • Plan ahead: During peak shipping seasons, the demand for dry container shipments is at its highest, and logistics can become more challenging. By planning ahead, businesses can secure shipping space and resources in advance, reducing the risk of delays and potential disruptions in their supply chain.
  • Choose the right container: Selecting the appropriate container is essential and hinges on factors such as the size and weight of your goods. Additionally, consider the intended shipping route and the prevailing weather conditions in the destination country. These considerations will aid in choosing the right container size and type that best suits your specific shipping requirements.
  • Pack your goods carefully: Careful packing is essential to protect your goods during shipping and minimize the risk of damage. Remember to label your goods with accurate shipping information. These steps ensure a secure and smooth transportation process, safeguarding your items throughout their journey to their destination.
  • Use a freight forwarder: Opting for a freight forwarder can be a wise choice for managing your shipping requirements. They can assist with container booking, customs clearance, and shipment tracking, saving you time and minimizing the complexities associated with shipping logistics.
  • Inspect your goods upon arrival: Upon your goods’ arrival at their destination, it is crucial to conduct a thorough inspection for any potential damage. Should you discover any damage, it’s essential to file a claim with the shipping line promptly. This proactive approach ensures proper handling of any issues that may have occurred during transit.


Dry container shipments have proven their worth as a safe, reliable, and efficient means of transporting goods worldwide. Their historical significance and continued adaptability make them an indispensable pillar of the global economy, supporting trade, fostering growth, and connecting people and businesses across borders. As the shipping industry embraces sustainability and innovation, dry container shipments are poised to remain a vital force in shaping the world’s interconnected future.