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Identifying a stow position

Some of the people in the industry can identify where a container has been stowed on board of a ship just by reading the stow position (also known as cell position) and also whether it is a 20’ or a 40’ container that is stowed there..

How do they do this..?? Mainly based on experience in handling stowage plans, but there is a formula to it..

I will explain below..

090482 is an example of a stow position.. This is basically divided into 3 parts

09 / 04 / 82 – where 09 is the bay, 04 is the row and 82 is the tier – translated in English it means :-

Bay = each container vessel is split into compartments which are termed as Bay and depending on the size of the ship it will proceed from 01 to 40 (for example) where Bay 01 is the bay towards the Bow (the front) of the ship and Bay 40 is the Stern (the back) of the ship.. Odd numbered bays (1,3,5 etc) means that it is a 20’ stow and Even numbered bay (2,4,6 etc) means that it is a 40’ stow..

how stowage planning worksConfused..?? No stress.. Look at the image on the right..

I have used Bay 09/11 (10) as an example here.. What you are seeing here is the cross section of the ship both on deck and under deck..

Each of the small square block represents a 20’ unit space..

The bold lines represent the hatch covers that separate the deck (is the part where containers are loaded, that is visible to us when you see the ship) and under deck (which is not generally visible when you are standing outside the ship)..

Row is the position where the container is placed across the width of the ship..

If you refer to the image the Row numbers are circled in Red.. It starts with 01 in the center and progresses outwards with odd numbers on the right and even numbers on the left..

Tier denotes at which level the container is placed – basically how high the container is stacked on board.. In the above diagram, the Tier numbers are circled in Blue..

Getting back to our stow position 090482 now – in the above diagram you will see that stow has an alphabet R – which i have used for the port of Rotterdam (each line, vessel or chief officer have their own alphabets for the ports).. So what i am saying here is that in stow position 090482 there is 20’ container that is stowed for discharge at Rotterdam..

So when you see a stow position as above you will know

09 = bay number and container is a 20’ (because its an odd number).. If it shows for example 10 then the container is a 40’..

04 = row number

82 = tier number which denotes that this is a 20’ container which is stowed ON DECK.. Usually ON DECK tier number starts from 80 and increases by 2 per tier, so it will be 80, 82, 84, 86 etc.. If the tier number shows 02,04,06 etc then its stowed UNDER DECK..

Lets look at a couple of scenarios from the above diagram..

Scenario 1 = 090482 is a 20’ container stowed ON DECK on Bay 09, Row 04 and Tier 82 – container is going to R for Rotterdam..

Scenario 2 = 110482 is also a 20’ container stowed ON DECK on Bay 11, Row 04 and Tier 82 which is basically the adjacent bay to the Rotterdam container and this container is going to L for Le Havre..

Scenario 3 = 090102 – which is a 20’ container stowed UNDER DECK on Bay 09, Row 01 and Tier 02 which is bottom most tier and this container is going to D for Dublin..

Scenario 4 = 100484 – is a 40’ container in stowed ON DECK on Bay 10, Row 04 and Tier 84 and this container is going to F for Felixstowe.. This container is basically sitting on TOP of the Rotterdam and Le Havre containers.. Since this is a 40’ container and sitting across both 9 and 11 bays , this bay is given the number 10.. The container is shown as sitting on 9 but the corresponding slot on 11 is marked with an X which means that this slot is NOT available for placing another container because there is a 40’ container already there..

For reasons of lashing and securing containers, a 40’ container can sit on top of two 20’s, but two 20’s cannot sit on top of 40’ (unless under deck and surrounded by other containers or within cell guides)

So this is how a stow position is coined and how you identify whether a container is a 20’ or 40’ and whether it is stowed under deck or on deck just by reading the stow position provided..

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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. Hi, one more question: all my containers numbers have 7 digest and not 6
    for example: 5175730, that would mean Bay 51 Row 75 Tier 730- but such a Tier seems impossible. How to read 7 digits?

  2. Hi, we have 8 containers on a vessel Taurus Voyage 017 W and we want to take them off in Rotterdam instead of Hamburg. The question now is where on the ship are they located. Can you help me locate them? Thanks, Wolfgang

  3. Hi, your expertise required, I was given the followng stow positions
    110072 – on hatch cover
    090072 – on hatch cover
    090172 – on hatch cover

    Now I know 80+ is normally above deck and 02 – 18 is normally below deck

    So where is 72, and what does it mean on hatch cover – how protected is the cargo

  4. In a recent onboard list I received a stow position for a 20ST unit was mentioned as 90004. Can you explain how a row number be ’00’?

  5. Thanks so much. As someone not acquainted with stowage having been mainly on the shipping side i have found this most useful and informative.
    Thanks so much
    Keep up the good blog
    John Lawlor

  6. I have asked repeatedly of the shipping line for the stowage location, and they tell me it is not available. Does this make sense? Is it available and they just don’t want to be bothered? Any advice on how to tease this info out of the shipping line?

  7. please can some one help me how i can get load plan software standard for vessel so i can use for distribution of cargoes for three or four ports,,, please

  8. Thanks for such an informative write up. Please share, if possible, the reason behind upper deck tier number usually starting with 80?

  9. Hariesh, on what document could I find the stow plan number for a given shipment? I shipped a significant quantity of wine 5 years ago, and now the wine is bad. I’m thinking the wine was exposed to high heat/temp, and would like to figure out where on the ship it was located during transport. Can you help?

    • Hi Tim, it is not shown on any document which is visible to the client.. You can ask the shipping line for this info and they should be able to provide it.. But if the wine is sensitive to heat, did you maybe pre-alert the shipping line of your requirement to stow the cargo away from heat..??

    • unfortunately I did not pre-alert them. As this shipment happened 5 years ago, would you expect the stow plan to still be availabie? Other shipments have been fine, and I’m curious if I can correlate ship location (exposed to direct sunlight on a side or top surface vs. not being directly exposed/placed under or among other containers) to the outcome.

    • Hi Tim, I am sure this information will be available.. However, it means extra work for the line to dig into their system and find it out for you.. From the stowage position we can find out where on the ship it has been stowed, whether it is under deck or on deck and how deep etc which may give you a clue..

  10. I have a stowage position given to me by the forwarder as 421314. Pls tell me where in the vessel will this be located ?

  11. Thank a lot for sharing this article at last after one month starting on this kind of shipments (I was working as boarding clerk before on tankers or grain vsls) i finally understand how does this work

  12. I presume a container ship is only on rare occasions really empty. It is more a continuous out and in of cargo in every successively harbour being docked, say a tour around Africa and a number of ports in Europe. With very heavy containers loaded only for a stay for second harbour to come….
    Is you program still valid in this situation? (or is this a practical not existing situation?)

  13. Hi Dinesh, i would think that it is a private choice on what you choose for your project.. If you are comfortable with reefers, then do that.. Whichever topic you are passionate and interested about.. All the best..

  14. thank you sir….i understand sir…what about the project details?i did my training in K LINE,chennai sir.but,in 2nd year i want to do project in any sector sir.i am decided to do in reefer cargo section in NVOCC company…what your idea sir…can you give any ideas about doing project? OR can i choose any other topic sir?

  15. Hi Dinesh, as mentioned in the article above, in a bayplan profile, each square represents a 20′ container in order to achieve a standard as the capacity of a vessel is calculated in TEU’s (Twenty Equivalent Unit = 20′).. A 20′ is equal to 1 TEU and a 40′ is equal to 2 TEU’s.. When identifying a 20′ on a bayplan profile, one square is used and to identify a 40′ two squares are used. On one square the alphabet representing the discharge port is mentioned and on the corresponding square on the other bay an X mark is shown to identify that this square is not available as it is a 40′..

    In such circumstances, for easy identification odd number bays (9)and (11) changes to an even number bay (10)..

    Trust it is clear..

  16. sorry sir….in some cases,if the 20′ container is not means,instead of they changing 20′ bay to 40′ bay….this is convertible bay…i am having some stowage plan for a that they represent the,for eg: bay no 30(31).i dont understand how they are changing.what is the process and important hints for changing like this??

    i am doing 2nd MBA i want to do project in shipping far in 1st year i did my training in liner company(“K” LINE).did you have any idea about this?

  17. thanks sir…I am a student studying MBA in shipping and logistics in chennai…I am clear in stowage plan,but can you explain convertabile bay???most cases many bays r converting inti 20′ to 40′



  19. hi,
    just wanted to say thank you for posting this article.
    this article seems very useful for me. i will be joining a container ship and i didnt have any background about container stowage onboard as this will be my first contract on a container ship. my previous employment were on tanker, bulk and roro.more power.

  20. information provided is very good. However could you please tell me why does the on deck tier numbering system start from 80 and only even numbers are used i.e. 82 , 84 and so on

  21. My vessel is a double deck roro sea barge. Containers (all 20ft) are loaded with fork lift in the athwartship position. We stow 4 across, I believe there is a different numbering seq for athwartship stow. Can you help?

    • Hi Rick, as far as i know there is no “set” sequencing or manual for athwartships stowage.. This largely depends on the ship, ship owner and operator and if they have a set pattern of cargo loading on their routes.. If anyone else knows of a set sequencing for athwartships stowage, please do share..

  22. Dear sir,

    Thanks very much for the very import information pleased to advise how we can draw vessel profile or define to be used by our planning programs ( load transshipment – casp )

  23. Hi Nancy, yes it is upto the vsl operator and the design of the ship.. Some of the multi purpose operators have a designated area that they use only for stowing containers and will carry only that many containers.. For such operators its easy to have a fixed list of stow positions..

    Others work on whichever areas are suitable for container stowage depending on where the other cargoes are stowed..

  24. Thanks Manaadiar, as you may be aware US Customs has a new mandate that any vsl coming into the US carrying containers must submit a copy of the stow plan electronically. one of the segmenets required is the stow position. US Customs has not given any indication of how stow position should be recorded for non cellular vsls, I was wondering if you could give any insight to that, but it sounds like it is up to the vsl operator.

  25. Dear Manaadiar, very informative. Are you aware of any internation stow positions that are the standard for non cellular vessels? for example, a break bulk vessel that happens to carry some containers? How are those stow positions designated?

    • Hi Nancy, good question.. This would generally depend on the ship operator and what type of ship this is.. They would also work off a stowage plan which looks different to the cellular vsls.. This would depend on ship to ship..

  26. dear sir your explanation is very good but i think that there was a mistake in the third line below
    bay 11 you wrote the odd numbers is on the left but it on the right

    waiting for your answer .

    with great respect

    • Hi Carol, thanks for the comments.. Not sure what you mean by “could maybe make use of it as an activity”.. Please can you elaborate.. Thanks..


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