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Container Lifting

9 Ways To Lift A Shipping Container

What Options do you have?

Bison Group

14 Dec 7 min read


How To Lift A Shipping Container

If you need to lift a shipping container, you'll probably have to fork out a lot of cash for the equipment - which can only be found in places that handle a ton of containers. These areas are known as "freight hubs." But what about when you need to lift containers elsewhere? You could call up a mobile container handling service, like a truck crane, side loader, or tilt-bed truck. However, there's good news - new container lifting solutions are much more affordable and accessible.

This report breaks down 9 different ways you can lift or move a shipping container, so you can pick the best option for your operation.

The list includes:

  • Gantry Cranes
  • Straddle Carriers
  • Reach Stackers
  • Top Loaders
  • Heavy Container Forklifts
  • Side Loaders
  • Truck Cranes
  • Tilt Bed Trailers

The report also weighs the pros and cons of each method, so you can make an informed decision.

Bison C-Lifts

The Container Lifting Jacks are a cost-effective and portable solution designed to lift containers in locations with low container volume. Certain models can lift containers weighing up to 40,000kg / 88,000lb, and they can handle all container types.

The Bison F-Series Container Lifting Jacks, featured in the picture, is an example of this equipment.

Pros of container lifting jacks include:

  • Their ability to lift heavy containers,

  • Their cost-effectiveness,

  • Their capacity to work in tight spaces

  • High portability

  • Flexibility - they can be used on-site or between different locations.

However, they cannot stack containers or move them around on-site.

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Straddle Carrier

The straddle carrier is a mobile on-site equipment that comes in various sizes and functions similarly to a gantry crane by lifting containers from the top. Although it can move shipping containers with ease, its size, and weight require a reinforced concrete surface for operation.

For those dealing with low to medium container volumes, smaller versions of straddle carriers, known as "mini straddles," are available for use in import and export activities and container depots.


  • Their speed and mobility on-site
  • Their ability to stack containers.


  • They come at a high cost of over $250,000
  • Can only be used on a single site with a reinforced concrete surface.

Container jacks are often the best alternative to a straddle carrier.

Container gantry crane rubber types

Gantry Crane

The gantry crane is a massive crane situated at the dockside, used for lifting containers from ships. While they have the capability to move up and down a dock, they are generally stationary, and their cost can run into the millions, making them unfeasible for most operators.

Though gantry cranes are widely used in ports, smaller versions of rail-mounted or rubber tire gantry cranes are available. These can be used to lift, move and stack shipping containers in container depots and other medium-to-high volume locations.


  • Their speed and efficiency in port operations where there is high container turnover


  • The high cost of installation and maintenance limits their use to a single site.

Reach Stacker

The reach stacker is a speedy and efficient option for container handling, with the capability to lift very heavy containers. It can move individual containers around on-site and transfer them between the ground, stack, rail wagons, and chassis. Some models can stack up to 2-3 containers high and deep.

Reach stackers are automated and operated from the driver's seat without the need for personnel on the ground. However, this functionality comes at a high price, with a new reach stacker costing around USD 500,000. Popular manufacturers of reach stackers include Kalmar, Hyster, Sany, or Konecranes.


  • Their fast turnaround time
  • Automation
  • The ability to stack containers.


  • High cost limits their mobility to a single site

Although expensive, reach stackers may be a worthwhile investment for those who require fast and efficient container handling on a single site.

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Top Loader

A top loader is a type of forklift that is specifically designed to lift shipping containers from the top and stack them in a single pile. Like a reach stacker, top loaders are known for their speed, automation, and ability to move containers around. However, the price of a new top loader generally starts from around USD 400,000.


  • Top loaders include their fast turnaround time for container handling


  • Their high cost limits their mobility to a single site.
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Shipping Container Forklift

Forklifts are an essential piece of equipment in most manufacturing and warehousing operations. While they are mainly used for moving general materials over short distances, a high-capacity forklift can also be used to lift and move empty and lightweight shipping containers if needed.

However, it's important to note that uneven container weight distribution can be dangerous as the forklift typically lifts from a relatively short base at the center of the container. While massive forklift versions are capable of lifting heavy shipping containers, they may not be suitable for handling all container types and weights.


  • Its versatility as a multi-purpose equipment
  • Cost-effectiveness.


  • Cannot handle all container types weights
  • Limited to a single site due to size
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Side Loaders

Side loaders, also called swing lifts, self-loading trailers, or side lifters, are heavy-duty chassis that can lift, transport, and transfer full shipping containers to and from the ground or other chassis.

This versatile equipment is an ideal solution if you need to handle containers in multiple locations. However, a downside of using side loaders is that a prime mover is also required to operate the equipment. Additionally, the container lifting mechanism can add up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to the tare weight of the chassis, which reduces the available payload.


  • The container transfer process is expedited, taking only 5-10 minutes
  • Equipment only needs one operator
  • Costly, typically over $200k along with the cost of a prime mover
  • May not be widely accessible in many countries.

Truck Crane

The truck crane is a type of container lifting equipment where the crane is mounted onto the truck carrier itself. Unlike the side loader, which places the container beside the truck, the truck crane can lower containers to anywhere within the arc of its reach. This solution is also referred to as a HIAB in the industry.

However, the reach of the crane is limited by the weight of the container, making it suitable only for empty or lightly loaded shipping containers. Typically, a truck crane can only handle 20' containers. The cost of the lifting apparatus is around USD 250,000, plus the cost of the truck.


  • Useful for handling containers in confined spaces
  • Mobile across multiple sites
  • Can lift and transport more than just containers


  • Expensive
  • Limited to empty or lightly loaded containers
  • Cannot handle all container types

Tilt Bed Trailer

A tilt bed trailer is a chassis that can be lowered at the back end to the ground, allowing containers to be winched or pushed onto the trailer. This method is typically only suitable for empty or lightly loaded containers with non-fragile goods.

While tilt bed trailers are less expensive than side loaders, with prices ranging from USD 70,000 to 90,000, they have a lower container lift capacity. It's important to keep in mind that there must be enough space for the truck to drive away in a straight line, which means that the site must be at least the length of the container (20' or 40') plus the length of the truck and trailer.


  • Portable and can be used on multiple sites
  • Less expensive than some other container lifting options


  • Can't lift or move heavy shipping containers
  • Not suitable for all ISO container types
  • Slow turnaround time
  • Cannot be used for fragile goods or items that require level transportation.
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Before the availability of these options, it was common for shippers to pay extra fees to transport companies for waiting time while containers were being loaded or unloaded or to pay high prices for a crane to lift and place the container. Sometimes there were no options available at all.

Now, there are numerous solutions to lift and transport shipping containers, catering to your specific requirements. Take a look at Bison's range of affordable container lifting jacks, which includes a variety of options from manual jacks to advanced, automated, and high-capacity lifting systems.