Full Container Load (FCL), as the name implies, is the standard form of shipping freight for those who have a large amount of goods to send.
The FCL definition seems to imply that you have to fill the container totally, but in fact, this is not the case – you are renting its exclusive use but if you cannot use every square metre it may still be the cheapest method.
You have to calculate, versus the option of LCL Shipping (Less than Container Load), whether FCL transport is the more cost-efficient. As a rough rule of thumb, if you have 12 pallets or more, FCL freight is likely to be the better solution.
Other advantages are that you have less risk from other peoples’ cargo, and there is no bumping from the LCL consolidation/deconsolidation process. If you have fragile goods this can be a deciding factor in favour of FCL Shipping.
The bulk of shipments are commercial goods, and the system of moving standardized, stackable steel boxes around the world has flourished thanks to the creation of International ISO standards.
These ‘intermodal’ bulk containers can be conveyed by ‘
Semi-trailers pulled by trucks
The most popular sizes are:
20 foot: 20’ long x 8’ wide x 8 ½’ high external (c. 6.1m x 2.4m x 2.6m)
40 foot: 40’ long x 8’ wide x 8 ½’ high external (c. 12.2m x 2.4m x 2.6m)
Increasingly used by bulk shippers is the Hi-Cube 40 foot, which has a 9 ½’ height.
There are also refrigerated containers, which can be broader at 2.6m width.
In the USA, longer sizes are common, including 45’, 48’ and 53’, the last of which is used for many rail and truck deliveries.
Other specialist types that you may encounter include Flat Rack, Open Top, and ‘heavy tested’ 20’ containers that are suitable for heavy machinery.
The maximum payload mass for a 20’ container is approx. 22 tonnes: and for 40’, approx. 27 tonnes.
The FCL process
As with most shipping, you have options. These can be summarized as –
Door to Door
Door to Port
Port to Door
Port to Port
The choice will depend on cost, your level of preparedness for loading the shipment, and the arrangements you have with your consignee at the other end.
Modern Full Container Load transport is usually fully computerised and able to provide transparency so that your freight forwarder will be able to track and trace the progress of the consignment.
The forwarder will take care of paperwork for you as required by the type of service chosen: including the Bill of Lading (BoL), advice to the receiving port, and customs clearance
Container Stuffing Options
You can elect to have an empty container dropped off at your premises. Be ready to load soon to avoid extra charges. You will be responsible for the condition of the packing so ensure that it is well done.
For overseas shipments you may require special ‘export packing’, often carried out by a specialist firm. The forwarder will arrange collection from them and transport to the shipper at the port.
Do not forget that with FCL container delivery the risk, and the account, are held by one shipper and there is one consignee. The container is sealed until it reaches its destination. There is no-one else to blame if you do not carry out the container packing to the required standards.
Loading Time and Renting Options for FCL
If you opt for a Live Load, the container is brought to you and you have 2 or 3 hours to load and secure the consignment before an hourly surcharge kicks in.
Less stressful is the Drop and Pack service where the container is left with you for an arranged time of 1 day to a week. It is a good option for people moving house abroad. It does cost more, though.
Containers are in use as temporary storage (or even as buildings) all over the country and can be bought or rented. If you want the flexibility of being able to hold a container for a longer period before sending it abroad, then speak to your freight forwarders and they will arrange it for you. Make sure you specify that it is for eventual shipping use because it must meet ISO specifications.