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What are Ocean Containers?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Ocean containers are large containers which are used to ship goods across the ocean. Also known as freight or shipping containers, ocean containers are the keystone to containerized shipping, a concept developed as early as the 1700s, but refined in the 1960s. The vast majority of goods shipped around the world spend some time in ocean containers, and anyone who has been to a port city or near a major railroad line has seen ocean containers of some form or another.

These containers are made to standard dimensions all over the world. The standardization of dimensions allows ocean containers to be easily stacked and packed together. Container ships are actually specifically designed to carry a load of ocean containers, with a design which is intended to hold containers securely with a minimum of wasted space. Ocean containers can also be loaded onto railroad flat cars and onto trailer trucks, allowing the goods to get from the port to another location without needing to open the container.

There are a number of ocean container styles, ranging from the basic dry freight container to the refrigerated shipping container, also known as a reefer. Tankers are available for liquids, and flat rack and platform designs are available for large and special loads such as airplane parts. Some shipping containers are collapsible, and all are designed to be reusable.

Products packed in an ocean container can vary widely. A container may be filled with one product, as in the case of an ocean container used to move rubber ducks or flat screen monitors, or the load inside the container may be mixed. Some shipping companies sell space in divided containers, allowing people who do not have a full container load of items to take advantage of space in a shipping container. The container can be marked with a bar code which allows the shipper to track it, and the products inside can also be tagged with RFID for the purpose of tracking.

In a healthy economy, shipping containers move all over the world, rarely spending too much time in one location. Products which a company ships to one country in an ocean container will be removed, and the container will be repacked and sent on to another site. When the economy is slow, however, shipping containers can start to back up in major ports and shipping yards. Uneven trade relationships can also result in a surplus or a deficit of shipping containers.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Sinbad — On Sep 21, 2011

Ocean containers seem like a great way to ship important items overseas. It is good that they have a dimension requirement so it uses as much space possible and stacks easily.

I wonder if there is more build-up of ocean containers at major ports and shipping yards with the economy the way it is now?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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