What might seem like a mere curiosity to those unrelated to the transportation sector is a matter of vital importance for logistics professionals.

Knowing the exact weight of shipping containers is a critical necessity to ensure safety and efficiency in maritime transportation.

That’s precisely why at Boxxport, we’ve chosen to dedicate an entire article to discuss the weight of maritime containers and their significance in the realm of sea freight.

How Much Does a Shipping Container Weigh?

While it might seem obvious, it’s worth noting that not all maritime containers are the same.

They come in different types and sizes, which means the tare weight (when empty) of an empty container can vary considerably from one model to another.

With that said, an empty container, for instance, can weigh between 2,200 kg and 4,500 kg, depending on its size and the materials used in its construction.

However, once loaded, the gross weight can increase significantly, reaching up to 30 tons in some cases.

Is Weighing a Shipping Container Important?

Understanding the container weight of a shipping container isn’t just important; it’s absolutely essential for maritime freight transportation.

First and foremost, it’s a matter of safety. An overweight or poorly distributed container can lead to accidents, damage the cargo, or even jeopardize the ship’s integrity and the safety of its crew.

Furthermore, port authorities and shipping companies have strict regulations concerning container weights. If your container exceeds the permitted limit, you’ll incur additional costs and often face delays and penalties as well.

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Knowing the exact cargo container weight not only ensures safe transportation but also prevents legal and financial complications.

Tare Weight, Gross Weight, and Payload Weight

shipping container weight

Anyone working with maritime containers should be well-versed in the three types of weights associated with these containers.

Tare Weight

This is the weight of the container when it’s empty. It doesn’t include any cargo, only the container itself. It’s a standardized figure provided by the manufacturer and is usually marked on the container door.

Gross Weight

This is the total weight of the loaded container. It includes the tare weight plus the weight of the cargo it contains. Essentially, it’s how much the entire unit weighs when it’s ready for transportation.

Payload Weight

This is the weight of the goods inside the container. It’s calculated by subtracting the tare weight from the gross weight. It represents how much you can load into a container without exceeding the allowed weight limit.

Understanding the distinction between these terms is crucial for efficiently planning and managing freight transportation.

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Shipping container sizes

As mentioned earlier, maritime containers come in various sizes.

The smaller ones typically measure 20 feet, while the larger ones can extend up to 40 feet.

Regarding weight, 20-foot containers usually have an average tare weight of 2,300 kg, and 40-foot containers have a tare weight of around 3,800 kg.

👉 Check Boxxport’s 20ft and 40ft Shipping Containers for Sale

Factors Affecting the Weight of Shipping Containers

Although we’ve already touched on some, let’s delve into the key factors that influence container weight.

Container size

As we’ve just seen, size plays a crucial role in a cargo container’s weight. A 20-foot container is fundamentally different from a 40-foot one.

Larger size equates to higher tare weight and greater capacity to withstand a heavier payload.

Construction material

Shipping containers are typically made of corten steel due to its exceptional corrosion resistance.

However, you can also find containers made of aluminum—a lighter material (up to 25% lighter than a steel counterpart of similar size) but less robust.

Structure and reinforcement

Containers are designed for stacking, which means they must be strong enough to support the weight of other containers loaded on top of them.

To ensure this, maritime containers feature reinforcements and additional structures like reinforced beams and corners, adding extra weight to the overall container.


As previously mentioned, the payload refers to a container’s interior content—the cargo being transported.

This cargo is the primary factor that determines the container’s total weight during transit.

Depending on the type of goods (heavy machinery, agricultural products, electronics, etc.), the weight can vary significantly.

Furthermore, the amount of cargo is also crucial. A container filled to its maximum capacity will weigh considerably more than one only partially loaded.

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Packaging and secondary packaging

The packaging employed to protect the cargo during transportation also contributes to the container’s weight.

Depending on the materials used (wood, plastic, cardboard, etc.) and the quantity of packaging utilized, it can account for a substantial percentage of the total weight.

Typically, this is further compounded by secondary packaging like pallets or additional boxes, if applicable.

Handling devices

Certain containers may be equipped with additional devices and tools to facilitate their manipulation, loading, and unloading, such as cranes, forklifts, or securing systems. These devices, obviously, add extra weight to the container.

Internal fittings

Inside a shipping container it is common to find different fittings designed to facilitate storage and transportation of goods.

These may include shelves, securing systems or loading bars, among others. Their weight must also be taken into account when calculating the gross weight of the container.

Thermal coatings

Maritime containers are coated with a thermal insulation layer that shields the cargo from temperature fluctuations.

These coatings are usually made from insulating materials like foam or reflective sheets, which, though lightweight, contribute to increasing the container’s gross weight.

Regulations and standards

International and national regulations set clear limits on the maximum weight allowed for a container in transit.

Exceeding these limits can result not only in fines and penalties but also poses a significant risk of accidents.

That’s why it’s crucial to be aware of the various regulations and ensure that the container, along with its cargo and all modifications, adheres to the established standards.

And if you want to learn more about the world of maritime containers and sea freight transportation, check out our blog.


What happens if my container is overweight?

Transporting an overweight container poses a risk that can lead to severe consequences.

Apart from being a safety hazard, potentially causing accidents on roads or damaging port infrastructures, it can result in significant financial penalties.

Port and transportation authorities worldwide often conduct weight checks and may detain a container if it’s found to exceed the allowed limit.

In addition to the potential costs, there are also additional fees imposed by many transport companies for handling overweight shipping containers.

Fortunately, proper planning and ensuring that the container doesn’t exceed established limits are sufficient to avoid all these issues.