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Import & Export

How To Load A Shipping Container

Bison Group

5 Oct 3 Minutes

Logistics, Weighing, Lifting

The safe shipment of cargo is a primary objective within the shipping industry. Unfortunately, we face a number of shipping container accidents every year, with a major cause being improperly loaded containers.


Containers that haven't been loaded correctly pose the risk of damaging or losing cargo, containers, the vessel, and may cause potential hazards to people and marine life. This can lead to significant economic losses for carriers and customers. The shipper can be held liable for any accident or event attributable to poor cargo packing, securing or handling.

As the shipper, you should be familiar with the CTU Code, which is the international best practice guideline for safe loading of containers. A key message in the CTU Code is to dedicate careful planning prior to loading the shipping container.

Here are four key points from these best practice guidelines that you should keep in mind each time you load a container.


When the empty shipping container is delivered and ready to be packed, the first thing to do is make sure the container is clean and dry, check that there are no holes, and it is functionally operative. The floor area must be clear, undamaged and free of any protruding nails or screws that may damage the cargo. You must also make sure that the container can cater for the required pay-load.

Then, check that the cargo is in good condition to ship. This means goods are correctly packed, marked, labelled and placarded. It is important that none of the packaging is damaged prior to loading, and that dangerous goods are declared. Take photos as a record in case goods are damaged by the consignee or third parties.


When it comes to loading, the process should be planned well before the operations commence. The load distribution must be considered, so that no more than half of the container bears more than 60 percent of the payload.

As a simple rule of thumb, heavier cargo goes on the bottom, and must be distributed evenly over the floor area. This will ensure that the shipping container is not proportionally heavy on any one side or corner. Lighter cargo should then be stowed on top. The same applies for wet and dry cargo, which goes at the bottom and on top, respectively.

Make sure that any incompatible cargo is properly segregated. The physical characteristics such as weight, size, density, and whether they are liquids or solids, must be taken into account. You must also consider cross-contamination by odour or dust. When it comes to hazardous goods, ensure that you adhere to regulations and segregate the goods accordingly.


Securing ensures that the cargo remains in its intended position, and does not cause any damage to itself or other cargo. The best possible way of securing is when cargo items are placed tightly against each other, within the container walls. However, if the cargo doesn't fill the entire space, this is when the cargo must be secured.

In heavy seas, the cargo within a shipping container is exposed to compressive forces, due to pitching and rolling of the vessel. As a result, the normal strain on any securing devices may be increased by as much as 100%. Clearly, it is important that you effectively secure the cargo within the container.

There are a number of methods available to secure cargo, such as tie downs, strapping, dunnage, fasteners, direct or friction lashing, blocking or bracing. Pictured on the right is an example of bracing, where lumber is used to artificially fit amongst the cargo. There is a great deal of responsibility involved with securing a load, so it is important that your packing team have a solid understanding of these methods.


In light of recent amendments to SOLAS regulations, you are required to get a verified gross mass (VGM) of the shipping container, and submit it to the terminal and shipping line before the vessel stowage plan is prepared; in other words, as early as possible. To get the VGM, you must use calibrated and certified equipment, and either:

  • Weigh the entire container and it's contents after the door is sealed (Method 1); or
  • Weigh all individual cargo items, the dunnage and add this to the container's tare weight (Method 2).

The CTU Code says it is best practice for the shipper to verify the gross mass of the container before transport operations commence. This way, if the container is imbalanced or overweight, the appropriate changes can be made. Early weight verification provides your carrier, forwarder and other third parties through the logistics chain an accurate weight that they can rely on, keeping the chain of responsibility intact.

For shippers opting to weigh the entire container (Method 1), there are typically 6 options for weighing containers at the packing location: (i) install a weighbridge on-site, (ii) use axle weigh pads, (iii) fit scales to container handling equipment; (iv) embed a container scale frame in the ground, (v) call in an "on-demand" container weighing service, or (vi) use a set of portable container scales.


The last of these options - portable container scales - are a cost-effective and versatile solution. The best models being BISON C-Jacks, for weighing grounded containers, and BISON C-Legs, for weighing containers on the back of chassis. BISON's container scales were developed specifically to give shippers a useful way to verify container weights in any location. It is often much more practical to take a small set of scales to the container to weight it, rather than move a heavily laden container to the scales. BISON container scales are an OIML certified and Type Approved weighing instrument.

In addition, the BISON container scales are portable, so they can be effectively used at multiple sites. The scales can be used to calculate the load distribution, and BISON's clever smartphone App allows you to capture, manage and share the container weight, photos and related data. A VGM certificate can be generated and emailed from the pack point, ensuring SOLAS and CTU Code compliance.