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Shipping Container Capacity/Weights

27.06.2021 - Posted by Updated On 27.06.2021    

Shipping containers, no matter where you find them in the world, are designed and built to standard sizes. This makes packing them with goods, loading them on ships, and transporting them around the world incredible efficient. More specifically, container manufacturers adhere to ISO (International Standards Organization) regulations with respect to size, materials, and production processes. That being said, there are some variations that you’ll find in the market place.

When discussing shipping containers, the primary metric used is the length, specifically the external length. The primary sizes of containers used in shipping are either 20ft or 40ft long. Once the length is determined, the second metric is the height of the shipping container. Originally, containers were manufactured to be 8’ 6” tall. However, in recent years many shipping lines have opted to transport with taller containers called “high cubes”. High cubes are one foot taller, making them 9’ 6”. The width is the one measurement that remains relatively constant at 8ft. The only variation in width is with some European containers that are 2.5 meters wide.

Weight capacity of shipping containers is also standardized, while allowing variations related to the length.

External Dimensions

Container Length

As we discussed before, shipping containers are primarily manufacturer to be 20’, 40’ and occasionally 45’ long. Containers used for storage or other non-shipping purposes are can be found in smaller lengths, most commonly the sizes are 8ft (2.44m), 12ft (3.66m), 16ft (4.88m), 24ft (7.32m) and 32ft (9.75m). If other sizes are necessary there are typically companies that will manufacture them to custom specifications.

Container Height

Shipping containers are commonly either 8ft 6ins (2.59m) or 9ft 6ins (2.90m). High containers are growing in popularity.

Container Width

The standard width of a shipping container is 8ft (2.44m). This number isn’t arbitrary and is designed to fit two standard pallets. However, in Europe wide pallets are common and special containers are made for that market. EU specific containers are 2.5 meters wide, and while they are available it is not common to find them in the secondary market, especially in North America.

Internal Dimensions

The side walls of shipping containers are typically always made of corrugated steel, and the depth of the corrugation is normally 1 inch (25mm). This means that the internal width loses two inches, or 50mm from the external dimensions. The back end, or commonly called the “blank end”, is also corrugated; while the door is manufactured to be 2 inches thick. All this adds up to mean that the container loses 3 inches from the length.

The remaining dimension to highlight is the height. Due to the thickness of the floor and framing, there is a greater loss in the height of the container. Because forklifts need to be able to easily slide under the container to lift and move it, they require an underside clearance of 6 inches (150mm). Combine this with the floor of thickness of 27mm (1.1 inches), and the internal height loses 7.1 inches to the floor, and another 1 inch (25mm) to the corrugated roof. The container is left with approximately 7ft 10 inches (2.39m) of internal height, although this can vary either in either direction.

Door Access/Clearance

The access through the door of a shipping container is 7ft 6in. Shipping containers get their structural integrity through the design on the frame, and part of the frame runs above the door. The width of this frame is 4 inches (100mm), accounting for the height of 7ft 6 in (2.28m).


When speaking of shipping containers there are three weights that are important to note: the tare weight, the gross weight and the maximum payload. For easy reference, these numbers are always painted onto the outside of the doors of a shipping container when it is in active shipping service.

  • Tare Weight: The tare weight is the weight of the empty container. This weight includes no cargo or other contents.
  • Maximum Payload: The maximum payload, or sometimes called the net weight, is the maximum weight of the cargo that a container can hold.
  • Gross Weight: The gross weight of the container is the container weight, plus the maximum payload.

Typical Weights of Standard Shipping Containers

 Length 10ft 20ft 40ft
 Tare Weight 1,300kg
 Payload (or Net Weight) 1,300kg
 Max Gross Weight 10,000kg

Note that modified or cut-down containers cannot hold the same weight as a standard container, because the structure of the container has been changed. The company that modifies the container should be able to provide details, capacities and advise if their design has been weight tested for lifting.

Cubic Capacity of Standard Shipping Containers

 Length 10ft 20ft 40ft
 Cubic Capacity 15.95 cu m
563.3 cu ft
33.2 cu m
1,170 cu ft
67.59 cu m
2,387 cu ft

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