How Much Does a Shipping Container Weigh?


Ever wondered “How much does a shipping container weigh?”

Most people wanting to transport goods, materials or equipment across seas and oceans have, but if you haven’t, it’s still good to know as this knowledge will surely serve you well when utilising shipping containers. The weight of a shipping container will vary depending on the size and type of the container, its also worth noting that even the same container types can differ between manufacturers.

So, how much does a shipping container weigh?

When dealing with a shipping container, you have three sets of weights to be aware of. The Tare Weight, the Gross Weight, and the Payload.

What is Tare Weight?

Tare Weight, also known as unladen weight is the weight of the empty shipping container. A 20ft ISO Dry Van Container typically has a tare weight of just under 5,000lbs, the specific weight can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, however our 20ft Dry Van weighs in at 4,585lbs or 2,080kgs.

What is Gross Weight?

The Gross Weight is the total weight of the loaded container. It can be worked out by adding together the Tare Weight and the Payload.

The Maximum Gross Weight, stamped on the container data plate shows how heavy the total weight of that container can be. Different container types and sizes will have a different Maximum Gross Weight, for example our 40ft Open Side High Cube container has a maximum gross weight of 28,000 kgs or 61,729 lbs.

What is a Payload?

The Payload is the weight of the contents of the container. The Maximum Payload on the container data plate shows the maximum weight that particular container can store safely. Again, this varies with container type and size, our 20ft Reefer Containers have a maximum payload of 27,510 kgs or 60,650 lbs.

With the above said, the total weight of a ‘dry’ shipping container is an important element to consider before you start shipping goods – in fact, most countries require that you provide an official weight for your container before the shipping process can begin.


A CSC plate showing the maximum operating gross mass

Why do I have to know how much a shipping container weighs?

Knowing “how much does a shipping container weigh” may seem like pointless information, but it is actually super-important for safety purposes!

Overloaded or unbalanced shipping containers are a disaster waiting to happen – they unnecessarily put both container ships and shippers at risk. This is why in 2016, a rule was established by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) requiring shippers to provide the VGM (Verified Gross Mass) of a shipping container before it can be loaded for export. This rule was actually established as a direct response to the accidents which kept occurring because of overweight containers.

All shipping organisations are required to comply with the SOLAS VGM requirements – Safety Of Life At Sea – this means they must accurately weigh their shipping containers and optimise loads in order to avoid fines and penalties.

What’s the best way to weigh a loaded container?

As we’ve discussed, an empty 20ft shipping container will typically weigh under 5,000lbs or mostly hover between 3,970lbs and 4,850lbs or between 1.8 and 2.2 metric tonnes. Also, you should bear in mind that High Cube dry containers are also used, which have a height of 9′ 6″ compared to the standard 8′ 6″ – which inevitably weight more!

Shipping containers are typically weighed dry as weighing a loaded container can be quite challenging. There are multiple ways of determining “How much does a shipping container weigh”:

  • Weighing the container on a truck’s chassis
  • Lifting it into the air using specialised equipment used for weighing very heavy haulages
  • Weighing it on the ground
  • Loading the container on a truck and driving it over truck scales

Just to quickly reiterate what we’ve discussed in terms of “How much does a shipping container weigh”:

The tare weight of a dry 20ft container is around 5,000lbs, its maximum gross weight is just over 55,000lbs and its maximum payload weight is around 50,000lbs.

Want to know more about how a shipping container’s poundage could affect your shipping methods or operations? Cargostore is always here to assist. be sure to check out our full range of ISO certified Containers, and download the spec sheets.

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