Successful international shipping requires a good understanding of cargo and container shipping basics.

When large cargo pieces have to be transported by sea, the best and most cost-effective way to transport them is through cargo and container shipping companies.

No matter if you are shipping for residential or commercial reasons, if you are interested in shipping large or high-volume loads internationally, the ideal fit is cargo or vessel shipping.  In most cases, these load are hauled via a diverse assortment of containers, each designed to carry specific types of items.

As a whole, cargo and container shipping companies deliver fast and cost-effective service for getting exactly what you need shipped overseas. For easy transportation they’re located along all 3 U.S. coasts, based on their target destinations.  These transport fleets also serve export companies, government agencies and private individuals.

Cargo and Container Shipping Basics

Cargo and container shipping companies are found at 3 ports locations throughout the United States – Pacific coast, Atlantic coast and the Mexican gulf.

Companies that have a more targeted destination will be located within a coastal area that is most proximal to where the ships end-up. For example, companies that ship cargo direct to the Caribbean, are usually found in coastal cities in Florida.

Transport companies have a variety of ship sizes and container styles that can carry virtually anything – including another ship. There are 3 specific kinds of cargo shipping that these firms engage in: vehicle shipping, vessel charters and general cargo shipping.

Vehicle Shipping

Vehicle shipping is how car manufacturers deliver their cars across the ocean. Many transportation companies specialize in fleet transport, and have specific protocols for safety when carrying vehicles. This service also includes individuals who are interested in relocating their vehicle(s) by transporting them overseas.

Vessel Charters

Vessel chartering is designed for those that require private, or large scale shipping services. The chartering of a vessel is basically a rental agreement. With this agreement the charterer agrees to employ a vessel from its owner. In these cases, it is usually the charterer that is the owner of the cargo, so to ship it, he or she will depend on others to move the cargo. In this situation, the hire money for this deal is known as the “freight” and is the final pay-out to the owner of the ship for the use of the vessel.

From an economic sense, this is an ideal move for a company shipping regularly, that is not interested in going to the expense of purchasing its own ship. A preferred route for start-up cargo shipping companies. Make sure to research which shipping company works best for your needs, price-point, and destination. For instance, for those looking to find a vessel chartering service that ships to the Caribbean, should look at shipping companies based in the Jacksonville, FL area.

General Cargo Shipping

Since general cargo shipping handles most of the typical shipping for most circumstances, it tends to be the service companies’ hang their hat on. A general cargo shipping service is employed when cargo shipping companies are hired by government agencies, other companies, or private individuals ship the agreed upon cargo internationally.  Most shipping agencies have easy to access pick-up/drop-off areas, as well as tracking and logistics devices as well as other advanced technology that helps to monitor every shipment while it is en-route.

Container Shipping Basics – Sizes

Typically, most shipping containers are around 8 feet wide. The main difference comes in the length and height of the unit. The most common and most popular diameters usually consist of a unit that is 8-ft. wide, 8-ft. 6-in. inches high, and between 48-ft. and 53-ft. lengths in most units. However, recent trends show that units known as “high-cube” containers are on the rise for cargo shipping. These containers usually hover around 9-ft. 6-in high, and come in variety of container length combinations.

Container Shorthand Terms and Abbreviations

40GP, 20GP are 40’ and 20’ General Purpose units.

40RF, 20RF are 40′ and 20’ containers that are refrigerated for temperature controlled-needed cargo.

40IN, 20IN are 40′ and 20’ containers that are insulated for moderate temperature controlled-needed cargo. Usually for containers without cooling modules.

40TC, 20TC are 40′ and 20’ tank containers that are used for liquid cargo shipping.

40DD, 20DD are 40′ and 20’ containers that have doors at each end. These units are often referred to as “tunnel containers.”

40SD, 20SD are 40′ and 20’ containers has one side of the unit open in addition to the end.

40SD, 20FR are 40′ and 20’ containers that have no tops or sides. These units have barriers (back and front) that are fitted with corner posts, or which fold down to secure the cargo.

40OT, 20OT are 40′ and 20’ open top, general purpose containers. These units have 4 walls and a bottom, but do not have a top. These units often have a tarp over the cargo.

40HC, 20HC – are 40′ and 20’ containers that have a height of 9’6” or higher. They come in a variety of different sizes.

Andrew Lazaunikas is a guest contributor affiliated with  Trailer Bridge, a Jacksonville, Fla., agency that is a recognized leader among container shipping companies serving islands within the Caribbean. Learn more at