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Types of shipping containers, sizes, dimensions and uses

  • A shipping container is one of the greatest inventions of the modern world
  • Shipping containers come in various sizes/types and dimensions
  • Each type of the shipping container has its specific use in logistics

shipping and freight questionsShipping Container, Freight Container, Container, Box, TEU, FEU – many of the synonyms and acronyms by which the common shipping container is referred to as, depending on who is talking..

Universally hailed as one of the greatest inventions of the modern world, the ubiquitous shipping container has really and truly made the world a smaller place and in my view, can be termed the one true architect of Globalisation..

The shipping container has evolved from being just a dumb box to being a smart container capable of being tracked anywhere in the world, in some cases even to the bottom of the ocean..

The shipping container comes in different sizes and types.. This is a refresher on the various types of shipping containers including some unusual shipping containers in use today, its dimensions and information relating to its use and purpose..

The most common container types are :


1) Dry or Dry Van (DV) or General Purpose (GP)

GP containers come in 20′ and 40′ sizes..

These containers are standard containers that doesn’t have any special features and are used to load normal general cargo of various varieties..


2) High Cube (HC or HQ) Container

A High Cube container is a type of container that is 1 foot more in height than a standard 40′ container.. There are also some 20′ HQ containers in circulation although not as popular..

High Cube containers are used by customers who ship cargo that requires bigger volume capacity as a High Cube can accommodate about 10 cbm more than a standard container..

These days most of the shipping lines are moving more and more towards high cube containers than GP containers..


3) Open Top (OT) Container

An Open Top container is a type of container which has a removable top as opposed to the fixed top of a GP container.. An OT container comes in 20′ and 40′ sizes..

It is mainly used for cargo that cannot be easily loaded through the door and needs to be loaded from the top like machinery, glass or cargo that extends beyond the height of the container..


4) Refrigerated (RF) Container

Commonly referred to as Reefer container, this highly specialised container comes in 20′ and 40′ sizes.. A refrigerated container or reefer is a shipping container used for the carriage of goods that require to be maintained at a set temperature..

While a reefer will have an integral refrigeration unit, they rely on external power, from electrical power points at a land based site, a container ship or while in the port..

While being transported by truck, they may be powered by diesel powered generators (“gensets”) which are attached to the container especially during long journeys..


Reefer containers are used to carry many cargoes that are sensitive to temperature changes and require a temperature controlled environment..

Examples include Meat, Fresh Produce, Fruits, Vegetables, some chemicals, Chocolates and many more..

Majority of the 40′ reefer containers are high cube containers.. Many of the modern ships are designed to carry optimum 40’RF..

Most shipping lines are phasing out 20′ RFs as the volume of cargo carried by a 20′ RF is much lesser compared to a 40′ and most of the customers prefer 40′ RF..

These days with the advances in technology and digitalisation, many of the reefer containers have inbuilt monitoring systems which allows the customer to monitor the refrigerated container and the condition of the cargo inside it..

Using satellite and mobile radio technology, it is now possible for the customer to identify the container’s location, temperature profile, relative humidity, and concentrations of oxygen and CO2 – around the clock and in real time.. In addition, certain settings can be adjusted remotely..


5) Flatrack (FR), Platform or Collapsible Flatrack (PL, COFL)

These specialised containers also come in 20′ and 40′ sizes..

These type of containers are mainly used for the carriage of cargo that is overwidth and/or overhigh.. Big machinery, vehicles on tracks, steel coils, cable reels etc can be loaded in these type of containers..

Not just when the cargo is Out of Gauge, these containers are also used even if the cargo is in gauge, but awkward to load normally and may require the use of forklifts or mobile cranes..

There are also certain types of flat racks known as Collapsible Flat Racks because the end posts can be folded making it like a platform..

These types of containers are mainly used for cargo that is overwidth, overlength and/or overhigh.. Big machinery, Heavy equipment, large vehicles on tracks, boats, big reels etc can be loaded on these type of containers..

Not just when the cargo is Out of Gauge, these containers are also used even if the cargo is in gauge, but awkward to load normally and may require the use of forklifts or mobile cranes..


6) Tanktainer (TK)

This container type which comes mostly in 20′ size is perhaps one of the highly specialised container types in the entire fleet of ISO containers..

A Tank Container or a Tanktainer is basically a cylindrical shaped pressurised receptacle housed in a 20′ x 8′ x 8.5′ frame for the transport of hazardous and non-hazardous liquids in bulk..

These containers are used for the transportation of Food cargoes, Semi-hazardous products like diesel, paraffin, petrol additives and also hazardous products, such as chemicals and petroleum products.. There are even more specialised tank containers to carry gases..

These tank containers usually have a carrying capacity of between 21,000 – 26,000 liters of liquid cargo depending on the product, density and specific gravity..

There are several types of tanks including fuel tanks, baffle tanks, heated tanks, food grade tanks etc and not all shipping lines have these type of containers in their fleet.. This is usually operated by specialist tank container operators..

All above containers fall within the standards set by the International Standards Organisation for shipping containers.. As per the ISO agreement, various characteristics of a container including its length, height, payload and many other details are identified by the markings on a container..

A list of “generic” dimensions for all the container types mentioned above is available from download from the Downloads page of this site.. Please note that these are general guidelines and each shipping line has a slight variation of the dimensions..

Apart from the above standard types of containers, there are some unusual and different types of containers which are also in circulation..


Super-Rack container – Similar in use as a Flat Rack container but with a BIG difference.. The difference is that in a Super Rack container, the corner posts can be extended upwards to increase the height..

This is most useful when you have Overhigh cargo.. Generally when you load an overhigh cargo on a Flat rack, slings will need to be used to lift the container as the spreader cant lock onto the corner posts.. With the super rack, you can lift the container directly without any slings as the below images will demonstrate..


Container with side doors – Rare type of containers used on certain specific routes to load certain specific cargo which cant be loaded through the normal doors or through the top..


Bulktainer -Normally has loading hatches on the top which enables bulk cargo to be poured into the container and also has “gates” at the bottom of the container which enables the cargo to be offloaded by tipping the container..

48′ and 53′ containers both of which are more commonly seen in USA and its corresponding Far Eastern/European trade lanes mainly.. These containers also have lifting points at 40′ so standard spreaders can be used..


Half Height Containers/Rototainers – these are purpose built for heavy duty mining applications enabling smooth movement of cargo from mine to ship.. These are used in conjunction with a Tippler which does a 180 degree rotation to discharge product..

Half heights are perfect for shipping of dense cargo such as Mineral Sands, Salt, Iron Ore, and many other cargo types..

The half-height container is 1450mm high to allow the units to be shipped in a normal 2900mm high container slot (9’6 high). This can save logistic companies a fortune when returning empty containers..

The half heights are a real multipurpose container. With Rear doors, tipping hatch and hard lid..



Tworty – an innovative new ISO container design that allows a unit to be used either as a 40 ft or 20 ft box has completed its maiden voyage..

The Tworty Box is made up of 2×20′ containers that can be linked together to form 1×40′ container thereby the name “twenty + forty = tworty”..

It has doors at each end; the second door opens to the inside and can only be locked from the inside..

Tworty Container

This door can be fixed to the container ceiling and, with the use of its special bonding elements, another Tworty Box can be joined up, thereby creating a 40 ft unit of full value and standard doors at both ends..

Images are courtesy of Super Rack who are the  inventors of the above height-adjustable flat rack container, who are the inventors of the The Tworty container and The Intermodal Container Webpage which displays a photographic collection of unusual and different container types..

Photo credits – Cor Rood, Jos Stiphout, Ryan Hickey, Gary Hannes..


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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Excellent article about international shipping. We do a lot of business with bulk bags that sometimes go in these containers. We are happy to help anyone who needs bulk bags, poly bags, or a variety of other products to fit your specific shipping needs.

  2. Thanks for the information you share it is very useful and I’m going to share this information with my friends for further reference. Great Content.

  3. Hi Hariesh,

    As you may be aware and also as a timely reminder for your readers, it is necessary to be mindful of the different allowable payloads weights you can move these containers on road. Different countries and jurisdictions have different rules and regulations so important to understand the allowable weights prior to importing large machinery etc. Some may even require special permits.
    Conrad D’Silva

  4. It is very interesting learning of different types of containers. I enjoy how they improved efficiency of handling cargo and the great protection of cargo loss, theft and also protection of cargo against external damages.

  5. Is there any YT type of container. A shipment of mine starts with these two letters. It is coming from china.

  6. Ocean bill of lading total gross weight should include tare weight as well ?
    Net 19800 , Isotank tare weight 3600
    Total gross weight should on bl should be 19800 kgs or 23400 kgs ?
    Or is it subjective to individual carrier to declare on BL total gross weight ?

  7. Hi Hariesh,

    Just love the website & your blogs. Immensely informative and helpful.

    It would have helped if you had given the Internal, External and Door dimensions of each of these containers along with these diagrams. Also the tare and laden weight would be very informative.

    What is the difference between a General purpose container and a Hard Top Container ?

    Do Reefer containers also come in High Cube versions ?

    Is a 20″ High Cube GP Container also available?

    Is there a restriction on the laden weight on the Flat bed Containers ?

    Thanks & God bless.

    • your article is very good.iam the the student of iil now pursuing my mba shiiping and helps me to understood all the types of cantainers and its size and dimension.


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