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5 points to consider before packing your cargo

If you are an exporter and especially if you are exporting for the first time, here are 5 key points you should consider before packing your cargo..

1) Use the right type of CTU (Cargo Transport Unit) : By CTU, I am referring to a freight container.. As I have explained in my previous article, there are various cargo types and packing methods in container shipments..

It is of utmost importance that you use the correct container size/type for the packing of your cargo.. Questions such as those below need to be properly understood and addressed..

A 40′ container is twice the length of a 20′ container.. So if I can pack 21 tons of cargo in a 20′ container, I can pack 42 tons of cargo in a 40′ container right..??

Answer : WRONG

  • 20′ containers are designed to carry more weight than voluminous cargo.. Examples – Minerals, Metals, Machinery, Sugar, Paper, Cement, and Steel Coils all of which are heavy cargo..
  • 40′ containers are designed to carry voluminous cargo rather than heavy cargo.. Examples – Furniture, Steel Pipes, Paper scrap, Cotton, and Tobacco all of which are voluminous cargoes..

While you cannot pack double the 20′ cargo weight into a 40′ container, you can definitely pack more than double the 20′ cargo volume into a 40′ container..

Of course, the type of container used is directly related to the type of cargo that you intend to ship..

points to consider before packing your cargo

For example, if you are exporting food products, you may require a food-grade container.. If you make a specific request for such a container from the shipping line, they will provide the same (usually at an extra preparation cost) to you..

This then brings us to the “condition” of the CTU..


2) Condition of the CTU – the condition of your CTU is of utmost importance as that is the basis of the safe carriage of your goods..

If the container that you are using to pack your cargo is not in good condition, you are opening yourself up to possible cargo damage, loss, claims, etc..

One of the most frequent spats between an exporter and a shipping line relates to the condition of a container that the exporter picks up for packing.. People have varied opinions on who is liable..

In the normal course of business, the shipping line is expected to release a clean, sound, dry, and cargo-worthy container from their empty storage depot to the transporter of the exporter.. The container depot has a responsibility to ensure that the shipping line’s instructions are followed..

On the other side, the transporter has the responsibility to check if the container that is released from the depot will suit the exporter’s needs..

General items to be checked here would include (but are not limited to)

  • anatomy of shipping container - parts - shipping and freight resourcethe empty container received is clean, dry, and free from any unusual smells, stains on the floorboard
  • no roof holes
  • the doors shut tight and without gaps
  • the lock rods close and lock properly
  • the slots for the seals are present and usable
  • the floorboard is not cracked or broken

These quick checks, if done, will prevent any major damage or loss claims at a later stage..


3) Use the correct shipping line’s container – As silly as it may sound, this is also a major issue faced by some exporters.. When an exporter ships a large volume of containers, sometimes packing up to 20-30 containers or more in a day to various destinations using the containers of various shipping lines, there is a high possibility that the packing depot could cross-pack cargo in the wrong containers..

Adding to this confusion is also the fact that many shipping lines lease containers from the same leasing company so the prefixes may be the same (like MSC and Maersk line both leasing TEXU (Textainer) containers) and you or your packing warehouse may incorrectly allocate one line’s container for packing cargo to a destination to which that shipping line does not service..


4) Documentation – Another crucial area of the shipping process that you must understand, understand and understand is the documentation process.. Documentation related to the cargo that you are about to pack and ship..

General items to be checked here would include (but are not limited to)

  • image for checklistDoes your cargo require any permits to be loaded and discharged..??
  • Is your cargo allowed to be discharged at the destination..??
  • Although you might think the buyer has ordered the goods and he has checked above, in a lot of cases, the shipping line will hold you (being the exporter/booking party) liable for any cargo that may be abandoned at the destination due to such issues..
  • Is my cargo hazardous, and does it require a dangerous goods declaration..??
  • Is my packing list correct and reflects the correct cargo weights, as there are different weights used in shipping and there are consequences due to container weight misdeclaration..
  • Also, bear in mind the SOLAS VGM regulations and if you are using Method 2, then you need to have that weight documentation handy..
  • If you are about to pack Out-Of-Gauge (OOG) Cargo then you need to ensure that your OOG transport permits, escorts, etc are ready and have been secured either by you or your transporter..

Ensuring that your documentation is all in order even before you pack will ensure that nothing is forgotten as it would be quite expensive to unpack/repack any cargo due to improper or incorrect documentation..

What’s more, if you pack your cargo without getting the above ready, the shipping line will charge you demurrage/detention for each day you keep the container with you..


5) Pack it properly will ya – even if you have checked and satisfied yourself with all the above points, one vital point remains and that is to “pack your cargo properly”..

Yes, again it may sound like a no-brainer, but a lot of issues such as accidents, cargo damage, and containers falling off a ship do happen at sea and on shore due to improper packing of cargo..

points to consider before packing your cargo

In one of my previous posts, I wrote about the need to pack your cargo properly, and in that post, I showed a slideshow that shows some pictures of cargo that have been improperly packed/secured in containers..

This will give you an idea of the damages that happens to cargo and the losses that the shipper or consignee incur, as a lot of them still ship cargo without proper insurance cover..

NEVER underestimate the importance of Protecting your valuable cargo for shipment.. You do not want your cargo arriving at the destination looking like the above..

This video by the UK P&I club shows the stresses that the cargo inside a container goes through during its journey by road, by sea, by rail, etc, and the end result when the cargo is not packed into containers properly..

There are of course more points, but these are just the key and main points that causes the most issues..

What checklist do you maintain/check before packing your cargo.. 

Article republished after critical updates

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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. Dear Sir,
    we need to export nearly 8 tones of engineering goods including 50 nos of seamless cylinder filled with CO2 gas at 60 bar pressure to Bangladesh.
    client asking UN Certified DG packing .please help us, how can solve this issue. materials laying at Mumbai.

  2. Hi Hariesh,
    Another briliant article and one we need more of as this happens to frequently. Although you are right there are no regulations in many countries about packting CTU’s, there is a wealth of information out there that responaible people can read and use. I have done local training for some of my clients and its made a huge difference in the securing of the loads and the placing of product or articles in the containers. Many thanks for a super article
    Chris Walden
    South Africa.

    • Thanks Chris, yes there are several things that can be done by all the role players in the industry to make it all safer and easy for everyone.. But then we also have many people taking shortcuts.. In the end we can only depend on people doing the responsible thing as we cannot police everything.. 🙂

  3. Dear Mr. Hariesh Manaadiar,
    I’ am a new comer in Sea Cargo, I have been in Air Cargo industry for over 45 Years, as an Airline Staff, now am in Shippers Shoe, This tips you have shared is so valuable to new comers, which was once unknown to me.
    Thanks a Lot for this valuable information.
    Best Regards.
    Harikumar Madhavan

  4. I have a few boxes that will be shipped to Europe am I allowed to pack knife and kitchen equipment into the boxes?

    • Hi Jay, any cargo that is shipped needs to be declared correctly.. If there are any “prohibited” items that cannot be imported into a certain country, you need to check those with your agent/shipping line agent at destination..


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