Best Practices for Loading and Stacking Cargo to Maximise Container Space


Best Practices for Loading and Stacking Cargo to Maximise Container Space

Dedicated container and tanker storage yards

Managing logistics for shipping items in containers can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re just entering the complex realm of international shipping. With numerous container types, sizes, modes of shipping, and pallet selection, creating an efficient shipping strategy requires intricate planning and understanding.

This blog focuses on maximising container space and reducing shipping costs, we delve into the intricacies of different types of containers, the importance of strategic cargo packaging, and the role of effective pallet selection.

How are Your Goods Packaged?

The packaging of your goods plays a crucial role in maximising container space. It’s important to decide if you’ll ship loose cargo or palletised goods. If you are palletising your cargo, the next decision is which pallet to choose.

Choosing the Right Pallet

Pallets are essentially flat structures used to stack, store, handle, and transport goods. The right choice of pallet can dramatically maximise the storage space of your container, reduce transportation costs, and ensure the safe and efficient handling of your goods. Two factors to consider when choosing a pallet are type and size.

Standard Pallets: A standard pallet is the larger of the two, measuring 1200mm by 1000mm, and comes in Full, Half, and Quarter sizes. The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) has sanctioned six pallet dimensions, as detailed in ISO 6780.

Euro Pallets: A Euro pallet measures 1200mm by 800mm and is widely used in many industries. The European Pallet Association (EPAL) governs all the details of pallet manufacturing, including the types of timber and nails used.

Loose Cargo

If you’re shipping loose cargo, it’s best to palletise your cargo. Palletising your cargo ensures that your product stays safe and secure during transit. Palletised cargo is less likely to get damaged during loading, unloading, or transit.

Unique shipping Ferrari container lifter

Determining Pallet Capacity

The number of pallets that can fit into a container depends on various factors, including the pallet type, their arrangement, and the container size. Here’s a quick look at how many pallets you can fit into a standard 20-foot and 40-foot container:

Standard Pallets: You can load 9 or 10 on one tier in a 20-foot container, depending on how they are arranged, and 20 or 21 pallets in one tier in a 40-foot container.

Euro Pallets: You can load 11 on one tier in a 20-foot container, and a 40-foot container will hold 23 or 24, depending on how they are arranged.

Types of Shipping Containers

The type of shipping container you choose plays a pivotal role in the safety, security, and cost-effectiveness of your shipping process. There are different types of containers suited for different kinds of goods. Let’s delve into some of the most commonly used types.

Reefer Containers: As the name suggests, Refrigerated or ‘Reefer’ containers are ideal for transporting goods that are temperature-sensitive. These containers are fitted with a refrigeration unit that maintains a specified temperature inside the container, keeping the goods at an optimal temperature throughout transit. This makes them perfect for transporting perishable goods such as food items, pharmaceuticals, and any other goods that require a controlled temperature environment. Reefer containers are available in 20-foot and 40-foot sizes.

Flat Rack Containers: These containers are best suited for heavy and awkwardly sized cargo that may not fit into a standard container. The unique feature of flat rack containers is their collapsible sides, which allow for easy loading and unloading of goods. These containers are perfect for transporting heavy machinery, large equipment, and oversized loads. They come in 20-foot and 40-foot lengths to cater to varying cargo dimensions.

Intermodal Containers: Intermodal containers are designed for the interchangeability between different modes of transportation (sea, rail, and truck) without the need for loading and unloading the cargo. This versatility reduces handling costs and minimises the risk of damage during transport, making intermodal containers an effective solution for long-distance shipping. They are also available in various sizes, with 20-foot and 40-foot being the most common.

Loading A Shipping Container

When it comes to maximising the space within your shipping container, the loading method is crucial. A properly loaded container not only ensures efficient use of space but also guarantees the safety of your cargo during transit. Below, we will delve into floor loading, a commonly used loading technique, and other essential practices for effective container loading.

Floor Loading

This technique involves stacking your cargo directly on the container floor. It is often preferred as it lets shippers use the entire container space effectively. By arranging your cargo strategically, you can make the most of the container’s dimensions. However, it’s crucial to remember that this method requires careful planning and execution to avoid damaging goods.

Layering: Start with a solid base. Heavier items should always be placed at the bottom of the container to maintain stability during transit. This approach forms a solid foundation for lighter goods to be stacked on top, ensuring a balanced load.

Fragile items: Fragile items require special attention. They should be well-protected and strategically positioned to minimise the risk of damage. Consider placing them at the top of the load and use protective packaging materials like bubble wrap, foam inserts, or corrugated inserts to prevent any harm during the movement.

Load Maximisation: Optimise space by filling in gaps with smaller items and packing goods tightly together. This will not only maximise your container’s loading space but also prevent cargo from shifting during transit, which can cause damage.

Palletised Loading: Palletising your cargo can further optimise space and make loading and unloading more efficient. Ensure the pallets are appropriately stacked, following similar principles as floor-loading – heavier boxes at the bottom, and lighter, fragile items at the top.

Proper Securing: Secure your cargo with straps, ropes, or bands to prevent movement during transport. Any movement can lead to damaged goods and an unbalanced load, which could pose safety risks.

Container Loading Plan

It’s also beneficial to create a container loading plan, which is a detailed document outlining where each item or pallet will go in the container. This ensures an organised approach to loading, making optimal use of space and ensuring that weight is evenly distributed throughout the container. By keeping these points in mind during the loading process, you can maximise your container space, ensure the safety of your goods, and potentially save on shipping costs.

Remember, efficient container loading is both an art and a science. With proper planning and execution, you can master it, leading to a more streamlined and cost-effective shipping process.

Full Container Load (FCL) or Less than Container Load (LCL)?

Your choice between Full Container Load (FCL) and Less than Container Load (LCL) depends on the number of pallets you’re shipping.

FCL Shipping: If you’re shipping multiple pallets (usually 8 or more), you’re better off shipping by FCL. In FCL shipping, your freight gets its own dedicated 20 or 40-foot container, ensuring your goods are not mixed with others.

LCL Shipping: On the other hand, if you’re shipping one pallet or only a few, LCL shipping is the best option. LCL shipping allows you to only pay for the volume that you need in your container, helping you save money by consolidating your cargo with other shippers in a 40-foot container.


If you’re shipping loads that don’t fill a container or dealing with multiple suppliers with minimum order requirements, cargo consolidation can be a profitable solution.

Cargo consolidation combines cargo from one or more shippers into one shipping container. This bulk shipping strategy allows you to pay a bulk rate for shipping rather than shipping your items separately. Consolidation not only increases profitability but also gives you more options and flexibility in shipment planning.

Shipping Costs

Shipping costs form a significant chunk of your overall logistics expenditure. Understanding the factors that contribute to these costs can help you make informed decisions and potentially reduce your overall spending. Shipping costs are determined by several key variables:

Type and Size of Your Container: The type and size of your container significantly impact the shipping cost. For instance, specialised containers like reefer containers might cost more than standard containers due to their refrigeration capabilities. Larger containers, like 40-foot containers, will naturally cost more than their 20-foot counterparts due to increased capacity.

Volume and Weight of Your Cargo: Shipping costs are calculated based on either the actual weight or the dimensional weight of the cargo, whichever is greater. The more your cargo weighs, the more you will have to pay. Similarly, if your cargo is voluminous but light, you will still have to pay a substantial amount due to the space it occupies in the container.

Shipping Distance: The distance between the point of origin and the destination also plays a significant role in determining shipping costs. The farther the distance, the higher the cost. This is due to the increased fuel consumption and the extended time it takes to ship goods over long distances.

Efficient use of container space can significantly reduce shipping costs. By optimising how you package and stack your cargo, you can fit more goods into your container. This can lead to fewer shipments, lower transportation costs, and reduced carbon footprint.

Consider utilising the services of a freight forwarder or a logistics company to help consolidate shipments, negotiate better rates with carriers due to their volume of business, and provide expert advice on best practices for packaging and loading your goods to maximise container space.

Strategies such as palletising loose cargo, appropriately selecting between FCL and LCL, and consolidating cargo can also lead to significant savings. These strategies not only maximise the use of space but also minimise the risk of damage during transit, further saving on potential loss and insurance costs.

Shipping costs can be a significant part of your business expenses. However, by understanding the factors that contribute to these costs and implementing strategies to optimise your shipping, you can manage and reduce these costs effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • The packaging of your goods plays a vital role in maximising container space.
  • Choose the right pallet type and size based on your shipping needs.
  • Depending on the number of pallets, choose between Full Container Load (FCL) or Less than Container Load (LCL).
  • Consider cargo consolidation to increase profitability and flexibility in shipment planning.
  • The number of pallets that can fit into a container depends on the pallet type and their arrangement.
  • Choose the correct type of container for your goods and make full use of container space.
  • Efficient use of container space can significantly reduce shipping costs.
  • Taking into account these tips will allow you to create a more efficient shipping strategy. We hope that this blog post will be a useful resource in improving the logistics of your business.

What’s Next?

Understanding the nuances of container shipping is vital for maximising space and reducing costs. Now that you have a better grasp on the best practices for loading and stacking cargo, the types of containers suitable for different kinds of goods, and how to effectively manage your shipping costs, you’re ready to take your business logistics to the next level.

But you don’t have to do this alone. Contact us today for more information on how we can help with your shipping strategy. Our team of logistics experts are always ready to help you make the most out of your container space, streamline your logistics, and even reduce your shipping costs.