There is a complete proper process of loading containers onto a full container ship. There are times when customers make certain requests to place the container in a particular place on the ship or place it on top of all the other containers so their cargo is not at the risk of getting damaged by getting squeezed by the other container’s weight.

However, these requests can not be complied with by haulage subcontractors. They have to abide by the container loading process on a full container ship.

There is a precise loading process that adheres to certain constraints and parameters when loading the container haulage onto the vessels. We have to take certain factors into consideration before the commencement of the entire process. These factors are as follows.

Structure of the Ship

Each stowage shipment firstly takes into account the size and structure etc., of the ship. Just as we have to take into consideration the size, shape, load capacity, etc., of a container before storing cargo into it, similarly, we need to measure these parameters of the ship before loading containers onto it.

Each cross-section of the ship is made up of a particular number of locations that are known as cells. These cells have varying numbers and measurements according to varying ships’ configurations. Each cell consists of three indices, each containing two digits that give it its three-dimensional position. These digits represent:


Bays pinpoint the position of the cell in relation to the cross-section of the ship. They are counted from forward to after direction.


Rows pinpoint the position of the cell in relation to the horizontal section of the particular bay. They are counted from the center of the ship to the sides.


Tiers pinpoint the position of the cell in relation to the vertical section of the particular bay. They are counted from the bottom to the top direction.

Every container is stowed in a cell present in a bay, positioned in a certain row, and at a certain tier level. There is a “ship profile” that is sent by container haulage services shipping companies to all the terminals of the ship’s route. This document contains all the structural and operational information about the ship, the number of bays, tiers, and rows it contains, and a set of Bay Plans that let the crew know the positions and number of cells available for stowage in each bay.

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The shipping agency sends a manifest for loading containers which contains all the relevant information about their containers, such as size, weight, type, final destination, etc. Apart from the standard 20 and 40 feet containers, there are other types of containers too, like flat racks, reefers, and containers carrying hazardous materials. Each type of container needs different measurements and requirements for stowage.

Firstly, containers carrying dangerous goods can not be stored out on the deck because of potential exposure to accidents. Plus, containers carrying refrigerated goods need to be stored in a capacity where they have proximity to a power source because they need the power to keep the goods fresh and steady.

Containers that are extra length, extra height, or extra width need special accommodation because the crew can not stack them with standard 20 feet or 40 feet containers. Moreover, containers carrying dangerous and hazardous content need special care, documentation, and accommodation facilities.

Stability Constraints

Stability constraints refer to an even distribution of weight aboard the whole ship. These calculations provide the best way to stow containers onto the ship so that the distribution of the weight is balanced and even. Stability constraints also prepare the ship to hold its own and navigate its way through any weather conditions.

This demands that the containers are stowed in such a way that prevents overburdening the vessel resulting in sagging or buckling of the ship that can affect navigation. In extreme conditions, it can even cause a split. Stability constraints are in place to prevent any such conditions.

FAQs (Frequently asked questions)

How is cargo loaded on a full container ship?

Weight must be distributed evenly across the surface of the ship so no side is heavier and it floats appropriately. The staff usually stores the heaviest containers at the bottom with relatively lighter ones on top.

How do you load a full shipping container?

Today, thanks to technological advances, containers do not have to be loaded manually through sacks and barrels. In today’s age, various equipment, technologies, tools, and software are available, and all of them help with saving time, reducing costs, and safety of cargo during loading and unloading and in transit.

How do they load containers?

The container is kept in the container stack on the port until the particular ship arrives. Then the container is brought to the ship through computer-controlled movements with the help of a bomb cart and then loaded onto the ship with the crane.

How do shipping containers get unloaded?

Once the ship reaches the final destination of a container, the port cranes unload the container and then transport it to the port bay or warehouse, where it is stored through the port container trucks until the receiving party arrives.

How long does it take to load a large full container ship?

It mostly takes around 24 hours for a port to finish with the loading or unloading of some of the largest vessels. The crew has little role in it, as the port staff takes care of most of it.

How many containers are a shipload?

Typical cargo ships mostly carry a max load of 20-foot containers (1-TEU) and 40-foot containers (2-TEU). The greatest modern full container ships of today can carry around the world 24,000 TEU.