latest news   currency converter   contact us
► home page
► company profile
► containerisation
► metric converter
► freight terms
► distance calculator
► currency converter
► terms & conditions

Project Management - Consulting Shipping Agents - Local and International Transportation - Ships Brokers

contact us
Containerisation and imperial and metric sizes dimensions

About containerisation
ISO container dimensions and payloads
Standard Containers ISO container types
Biggest ISO container companies

About containerisation

Containerization is a system of intermodal freight transport cargo transport using standard ISO containers (known as shipping containers or isotainers) that can be loaded and sealed intact onto container ships, railroad cars, planes, and trucks.

The introduction of containers resulted in vast improvements in port handling efficiency, thus lowering costs and helping lower freight charges and, in turn, boosting trade flows. Almost every manufactured product humans consume spends some time in a container.

Containerization has revolutionized cargo shipping. Today, approximately 90% of non-bulk cargo worldwide moves by containers stacked on transport ships; 26% of all containers originate from China. As of 2005, some 18 million total containers make over 200 million trips per year. There are ships that can carry over 14,500 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), for example the "Emma Mærsk", 396 m long, launched August 2006. It has even been predicted that, at some point, container ships will be constrained in size only by the depth of the Straits of Malacca—one of the world's busiest shipping lanes—linking the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This so-called Malaccamax size constrains a ship to dimensions of 470 m in length and 60 m wide (1542 feet by 197 feet).

However, few initially foresaw the extent of the influence containerization would bring to the shipping industry. In the 1950s, Harvard University economist Benjamin Chinitz predicted that containerization would benefit New York by allowing it to ship industrial goods produced there more cheaply to the Southern United States than other areas, but did not anticipate that containerization might make it cheaper to import such goods from abroad. Most economic studies of containerization merely assumed that shipping companies would begin to replace older forms of transportation with containerization, but did not predict that the process of containerization itself would have some influence on producers and the extent of trading.

A converted container used as an office at a building site.The widespread use of ISO standard containers has driven modifications in other freight-moving standards, gradually forcing removable truck bodies or swap bodies into the standard sizes and shapes (though without the strength needed to be stacked), and changing completely the worldwide use of freight pallets that fit into ISO containers or into commercial vehicles.

Improved cargo security is also an important benefit of containerization. The cargo is not visible to the casual viewer and thus is less likely to be stolen and the doors of the containers are generally sealed so that tampering is more evident. This has reduced the "falling off the truck" syndrome that long plagued the shipping industry.

Use of the same basic sizes of containers across the globe has lessened the problems caused by incompatible rail gauge sizes in different countries. The majority of the rail networks in the world operate on a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) gauge track known as standard gauge but many countries (such as Russia, Finland, and Spain) use broader gauges while many other countries in Africa and South America use narrower gauges on their networks. The use of container trains in all these countries makes trans-shipment between different gauge trains easier.

Some of the largest global companies containerizing shipments today are Patrick Global Shipping, Bowen Exports, and Theiler & Sons Goods, LLC.

Back to top of screen

ISO container dimensions and payloads

There are five common standard lengths, 20-ft (6.1 m), 40-ft (12.2 m), 45-ft (13.7 m), 48-ft (14.6 m), and 53-ft (16.2 m). United States domestic standard containers are generally 48-ft and 53-ft (rail and truck). Container capacity is often expressed in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU, or sometimes teu). An equivalent unit is a measure of containerized cargo capacity equal to one standard 20 ft (length) × 8 ft (width) container. As this is an approximate measure, the height of the box is not considered, for instance the 9 ft 6 in (2.9 m) High cube and the 4-ft 3-in (1.3 m) half height 20-ft containers are also called one TEU. Similarly, the 45-ft (13.7 m) containers are also commonly designated as two TEU, although they are 45 and not 40 feet long. Two TEU are equivalent to one forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU).

The use of Imperial measurements to describe container size (TEU, FEU) reflects the fact that US Department of Defense played a major part in the development of containers. The overwhelming need to have a standard size for containers, in order that they fit all ships, cranes, and trucks, and the length of time that the current container sizes have been in use, makes changing to an even metric size impractical.

The maximum gross mass for a 20-ft dry cargo container is 24,000kg, and for a 40-ft (including the 2.87 m (9 ft 6 in) high cube container), it is 30,480 kg. Allowing for the tare mass of the container, the maximum payload mass is therefore reduced to approximately 21,600 kg for 20-ft, and 26,500 kg for 40-ft containers.

Since November 2007 48-ft and 53-ft containers are used also for international ocean shipments. At the moment (April 2008) the only ocean company who offer such containers is APL. However, APL containers have slightly different sizes and weights than standard 48-ft and 53-ft containers (that are used in the US by rail and truck services).

Back to top of screen

Standard Containers ISO container types

The 40-ft container is the most popular container worldwide.[citation needed] Longer container types have become more common, especially in North America. Shorter containers (e.g. 10-ft containers) are rare.

The following table shows the weights and dimensions of the three most common types of containers worldwide. The weights and dimensions quoted below are averages, different manufacture series of the same type of container may vary slightly in actual size and weight.

20′ container 40′ container 45′ high-cube container
imperial metric imperial metric imperial metric
length 20' 6.058 m 40′ 0″ 12.192 m 45′ 0″ 13.716 m
width 8′ 0″ 2.438 m 8′ 0″ 2.438 m 8′ 0″ 2.438 m
height 8′ 6″ 2.591 m 8′ 6″ 2.591 m 9′ 6″ 2.896 m
length 18′ 10 516 5.758 m 39′ 5 4564 12.032 m 44′ 4″ 13.556 m
width 7′ 8 1932 2.352 m 7′ 8 1932 2.352 m 7′ 8 1932 2.352 m
height 7′ 9 5764 2.385 m 7′ 9 5764 2.385 m 8′ 9 1516 2.698 m
door aperture width 7′ 8 ⅛″ 2.343 m 7′ 8 ⅛″ 2.343 m 7′ 8 ⅛″ 2.343 m
height 7′ 5 ¾″ 2.280 m 7′ 5 ¾″ 2.280 m 8′ 5 4964 2.585 m
volume 1,169 ft³ 33.1 m³ 2,385 ft³ 67.5 m³ 3,040 ft³ 86.1 m³
gross mass
52,910 lb 24,000 kg 67,200 lb 30,480 kg 67,200 lb 30,480 kg
empty weight 4,850 lb 2,200 kg 8,380 lb 3,800 kg 10,580 lb 4,800 kg
net load 48,060 lb 21,600 kg 58,820 lb 26,500 kg 56,620 lb 25,680 kg

20-ft, "heavy tested" containers are available for heavy goods (e.g. heavy machinery). These containers allow a maximum weight of 67,200 lb (30,480 kg), an empty weight of 5,290 lb (2,400 kg), and a net load of 61,910 lb (28,080 kg).

Back to top of screen


Various container types are available for different needs:

  • General purpose dry van for boxes, cartons, cases, sacks, bales, pallets, drums in standard, high or half height
  • High cube palletwide containers for europallet compatibility
  • Temperature controlled from −25 °C to +25 °C reefer
  • Open top bulktainers for bulk minerals, heavy machinery
  • Open side for loading oversize pallet
  • Flushfolding flat-rack containers for heavy and bulky semi-finished goods, out of gauge cargo
  • Platform or bolster for barrels and drums, crates, cable drums, out of gauge cargo, machinery, and processed timber
  • Ventilated containers for organic products requiring ventilation
  • Tank containers for bulk liquids and dangerous goods
  • Rolling floor for difficult to handle cargo
  • Gas bottle
  • Generator
  • Collapsible ISO
  • Swapbody

Biggest ISO container companies

Top 10 container shipping companies in order of TEU capacity, first January 2006
TEU capacity
Market Share
Number of ships
A.P. Moller-Maersk Group
Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A.
Evergreen Marine Corporation
China Shipping Container Lines
American President Lines
NYK Line


Back to top of screen

Tel: +27 11 312 1308 Fax: +27 11 312 1029 Email:
Address: 10A Halfway Gardens, Asparagus Road, Midrand