When shipping cargo in an ocean freight container, it’s certainly tempting to adopt the mindset that you’ve paid for the space in that box and, dammit, you’re going to use it!  We get it!  But alas, there’s more than that to compliant shipping.  Observance of the maximum load limits of a container isn’t the whole picture either.  Where the structural integrity of the equipment and general safety are concerned, there are further restrictions to understand.  And now, effective July 1, 2016, all container weights must be verified by shippers and certified on shipping documents.  These weights are used by ocean carriers and stevedores in making important decisions about vessel operations, so accurate numbers are essential.  Mis-declared weights create potentially dangerous conditions that could negatively affect the safety of port workers, vessel operators, truck drivers, those sharing the road, and the environment.  Please see The Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) great synopsis of mis-declared container weights incidents.

                Click me to enlarge!

When it comes to thVGM_Infographic_Shapiroe equipment, “max weight” isn’t just a suggestion; it’s a hard and fast rule.  You’ll find it stamped on the door of the container so you can’t miss it.  When you think about it, protecting your cargo from the open air below you’ll basically find an inch or two of plywood and some cross-beams of steel.  While I’m no engineering expert, I’m pretty sure the designers know the limits of that plywood and would discourage you from exceeding them.

It’s important to remember that max weight includes not only the cargo, but also the dunnage, blocking, bracing, pallets, and anything else that is in the container.  Tare weight, typically stamped just beneath the max weight, is the weight of the container when empty.  Shippers can arrive at the certified gross container weight using one of two methods:

  • Weigh the container, fully loaded, on a certified scale.
  • Weigh the contents of the container upon loading (this means everything going into the box) then add the tare weight of the equipment.

What happens if the shipper fails to perform one of the two weigh-in methods above or doesn’t verify weights appropriately on the shipping documents starting July 1, 2016?  The container will be blocked from loading on board the vessel.  That’s right.  Your cargo will remain at the port of origin while the vessel sails off without it.  Some terminals are even declaring that they won’t allow export containers to in-gate if the VGM hasn’t been received electronically in advance.  Fears are mounting that this additional time and work for shippers will put U.S. exports at a further disadvantage, and exporters have asked that the Coast Guard intervene.

Ocean shipping isn’t the only mode where weight matters.  In addition to stowage and vessel requirements, there are a number of other reasons we pay close attention to the weight of the cargo being loaded into that box.

Here in the U.S., weight limits can be set at the federal, state and local level for over-the-road transit.  In most cases, each state sets its own limits on legal weight and any exceptions, particularly as it relates to permits and heavyweight corridors.  If your container needs to travel over the road, it is highly advised that you know the rules of roads on which the container will travel and the type of equipment being used to get your box to its final destination.

Once you have the max container weight concerns addressed, don’t forget about the Bridge Law.  Basically this formula ensures that the gross weight of the vehicle and its contents are adequately distributed over the axles, which are placed at a satisfactory distance from one another.

While weight compliance has always been an important factor in safe shipping, the new weight verification requirement increases the level of responsibility on the supplier.  With its implementation date right around the corner, several organizations and trade groups are pushing for greater specificity regarding enforcement and other outlined responsibilities.  As it’s written today, are you and your shippers ready?

Did this blog get you thinking?  If so, check out Shapiro’s Ocean Container Specifications printable cheat sheet.