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How Much Does a Shipping Container Weigh?

19 April 2024

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Tips & Guides
shipping container

Every year, tens of millions of shipping containers criss-cross the oceans and roads. Each one of them is carrying a carefully-calculated load, optimised for weight, cost, and efficiency. 

Here we’ll cover the most common shipping container sizes and weights you need to know for loading, shipping, and transporting containers.

Container weights

The weight of a shipping container is calculated in three different weights.

  • Tare weight is how much the empty shipping container weighs.
  • Payload weight shows the maximum weight that the container can carry. 
  • Gross weight is the tare weight plus the payload weight added together. 
shipping container

How heavy is a shipping container?

The weight of a shipping container varies based on its size. Fortunately, freight containers use standard ISO sizes, so you can estimate the tare weight, payload, and gross weight before you buy or hire a container. 

We’ve given imperial and metric weights here. As a quick reminder, a US ton is 2000lbs, while a UK tonne is 1000kg. 

10ft shipping container weight

  • A 10ft (3m) shipping container weighs around 1.5 tons (that’s 1.3 tonnes). 
  • It can carry up to 11 tons (10 tonnes) as a payload.
  • The gross weight of a 10ft container is 12.5 tons (11 tonnes).

20ft shipping container weight

  • A 20ft (6m) shipping container weighs around 2.5 tons (2.2 tonnes).
  • It can carry up to 2.5 tons (2 tonnes) as a payload.
  • The gross weight of a 20ft container is 33.5 tons (30.5 tonnes).

40ft shipping container weight

  • A 40ft (12m) shipping container weighs around 4.25 tons (3.75 UK tonnes).
  • It can carry up to 4.25 tons (3.75 tonnes) as a payload.
  • The gross weight of a 40ft container is 33.5 tons (30.5 tonnes).

Weight factors to consider

When you calculate the weight of a shipping container, you need to ask:

  • How tall is the container? High cube containers are a foot taller than standard containers, so they weigh more.
  • Has the container been altered? Cut-down or bespoke containers have been altered from the standard. They won’t be able to hold as much weight as usual. 
  • How old is the container? The age and condition of a shipping container will affect how much it weighs and how much it can carry. 

How to weigh shipping containers

There are a few methods that shipping companies can use to weigh loaded containers. 

Trailer suspension weighing system

If a container is already loaded onto a truck chassis, then it can be weighed using this method. A special weighing system is fitted to the truck’s suspension. It estimates the weight of the container based on how much it affects the truck’s suspension.

It isn’t very accurate, though. The trailer suspension weighing system is only accurate to within 3-5%. 

Weighbridge

A weighbridge is a big set of scales on a concrete foundation. You can fit large vehicles, including trucks carrying shipping containers, onto it. 

The weighbridge system is accurate to within 0.2-0.5%. However, it can be expensive to use. 

Axle weigh pads

Like the trailer suspension system, axle weigh pads are directly attached to the vehicle carrying a shipping container. Axle weigh pads are a popular option because they’re lightweight and cheaper to use. 

Crane scales

If other methods aren’t available, shipping containers can be weighed using a crane. When the crane lifts the container, it automatically reads the weight. Crane scales can measure weights up to 22 tons (20 tonnes). 

Why is container weighing required?

Most countries legally require you to report the weight of each shipping container that passes through their ports. In 2016, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) started requiring every container to have a Verified Gross Mass (VGM), or weight measurement, before it’s loaded onto a ship.

If the container weights aren’t accurately reported, then ships can be off-balance or overloaded—posing a risk to people, equipment, and cargo. 

Knowing the weight of each container also helps you calculate shipping costs more accurately. If you don’t know the tare, payload, and gross weight of your container, then you won’t be able to get a fair price. 

Why are overweight containers a problem?

An overloaded container could damage a vehicle chassis or terminal handling equipment, because it’s too heavy for their specifications.

Once onboard a ship, an overloaded container can’t be stowed properly, which means there’s more risk of containers being lost overboard. 

There’s also the human cost. Overweight containers can injure workers and contribute to accidents on motorways and rail routes.

How much can you put in a shipping container?

How much you can fit in a shipping container depends on the size, shape, and packaging of whatever you plan to ship. 

inside a shipping container

Here’s a rough guide: each shipping container can hold about half the number of pallets as the next size up.

  • A 10ft (4m) container can take 4 Standard pallets or 5 EUR pallets.
  • A 20ft (6m) container can carry 10 Standard pallets or 11 EUR pallets.
  • A 40ft (12m) container can take 20 Standard pallets or 21 EUR pallets.

What’s the maximum load for a 20-foot container?

The maximum load you can put on a 20ft shipping container is 2.5 tons (2 tonnes). You’ll also need to factor in the shipping line’s regulations and the specific cargo you want to load. For example, if you were shipping lots of large, light items, then you would probably fill the container before you reached the maximum weight. 

What’s the maximum load for a 40-foot container?

A 40ft shipping container can be loaded with up to 4.25 tons (3.75 tonnes). However, you’ll also need to consider the shipping line’s regulations and the cargo you want to load. For example, if you want to ship lots of big, light items, then you might fill up the container before it reaches the maximum weight.

The bottom line

Shipping containers come in standard sizes and weights. For each size, you’ll need to know the container’s weight on its own, how much it can carry, and how much a full container weighs overall. 

We’ve been selling shipping containers of all weights and sizes for over 40 years. Contact us for a free consultation on which shipping container would be best suited for your needs today!

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