How Much Does A Shipping Container Weigh? #Answered

Shipping containers pose a lot of risks. They’re often carrying a lot of heavy cargo, which can rapidly turn deadly with high speeds and improper fastening. This usually comes due to not fully accommodating the weight of their container. It’s important to understand just how much you need to fasten properly, as any mistakes could lead to damaged cargo or bad accidents.

The average shipping container’s weight differs between sizes. 20ft containers are best assumed to land at 4850lbs (2.43 tons), with 40ft containers nearly doubling that at 9259lbs (4.63 tons). Despite this, shipping container max weights are held to similar standards. Make sure to keep your VGM well below the container’s total capacity to avoid any unfortunate mishaps.

Knowing the shipping container’s weight gives a better understanding of just what it’ll take to fasten it in place. Cargo containers weigh quite a bit and occasionally hold volatile materials. You want to be absolutely certain they won’t fall off or get agitated during transit. It’s also worth noting that different states have their own laws regarding shipping container weight limits.

Average Shipping Container Weight

yellow shipping container

Your average, empty 20ft shipping container usually weighs between 3968-4850lbs (1.8-2.2 tons). Another popular shipping container category is the 40ft containers, falling around 8378-9259lbs (3.8-4.2 tons). It’s better to play it safe and operate under the assumption your container is on the heavier end of that weight range.

Size Tare Weight Payload Weight Max Gross Weight
20ft standard 4519lbs/2050kg 63714lbs/28900kg 67241lbs/30500kg
20ft high cube 4850lbs/2200kg 62391lbs/28300kg 67241lbs/30500kg
40ft standard 8378lbs/3800kg 58863lbs/26700kg 67241lbs/30500kg
40ft high cube 9259lbs/4200kg 57982lbs/26300kg 64241lbs/30500kg

These values are subject to change depending on the container’s structure. For example, a high cube container has an extra foot on standard containers of the same measurement. The extra weight comes from an increase in total dimension, storage space, and material used.

Tare and Payload Weight


Tare weight is the weight of a container or vehicle by itself. It occasionally gets overcomplicated by factors such as fuel content for vehicles. It’s more reliable when it comes to shipping containers, but even that can vary at times.

This disparity usually comes due to the material used – newer shipping containers are lighter due to design and material developments. The tare weight of a shipping container is often printed on the container markings, and will certainly be on the shipping document.

If you can’t be certain of the measurement’s accuracy, play it safe and assume you’re working with the maximum weight for a container of that size.

Payload Weight

Payload weight is just the maximum cargo weight a shipping container can hold. This does not include the container’s tare weight. It won’t always take protective padding for cargo into account, so be mindful of small disparities that could crop up from this.

It’s very important not to exceed this value – doing so could easily compromise the container, and in extreme cases even damage their main transportation method (i.e. ships and trucks).

This value varies across different container sizes, with heavier containers boasting less payload capacity. It’s also important to note that high cube variants of shipping containers have slightly less payload weight than their standard counterparts.

Verified Gross Mass

Verified Gross Mass (VGM) can be seen as the “true” weight of a shipping container. It includes the tare weight of the container itself, the total cargo weight, and all periphery contributors to that. It’s the only weight type that includes the components in dunnage, blocking, and bracing.

Dunnage is essentially padding used to protect the cargo. It usually comes in the form of softwood, paper, or burlap. Blocking material controls a load’s lateral motion, while bracing components serve to restrict your cargo’s vertical movement capacity.

The tools used to properly secure cargo can alter the shipping container’s total weight, so it’s important to take every pound into account on the shipping document.

Shipping Container Weight Limits

miniature container shipping

Despite the huge range of different sizes, shipping containers maintain a very strict, standardized weight limit. It’s needed because their main transportation methods need to safely accommodate hauling them across great distances.

This might come as a surprise, but a 20ft shipping container and a 40ft shipping container have comparable payload weights. Gross shipping weight is standardized across all containers regardless of model: 67241lbs (33.62 tons).

While it’s technically legal to fill it with cargo to that capacity, try not to push the envelope. Different states have their own value for shipping limits, and crossing state lines could render your cargo weight above legal limits.

It’s safer to stick to a maximum gross weight of 40380lbs (20.19 tons), especially when using trucks. This is the most you can get away with hauling down highways in the USA and is safe across most locales. You can get away with a bit more weight if you’re transporting by ship.

This ensures that vehicles in charge of transporting cargo containers can comfortably handle their weight. Improperly weighed or fastened containers are one of the primary causes of automotive accidents involving shipping containers, and are a significant factor for ship-borne occurrences.

It’s particularly problematic at sea and escalated to the point that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) intervened. Since 2016, shippers are now required to provide the VGM of their shipping containers.

Why is Weight so Important?

Cargo ships are some of the most deceptively dangerous work environments in the 21st century. Being a few hundred pounds off from the proper weight might lead to a container shifting, which could subsequently dislodge other containers.

shipping containers ship

Incidents, where shipping containers fall overboard, are more common than people think. Losses can include thousands of containers’ worth, totaling millions – if not billions – worth in damages.

It can also turn tragic in some cases, as the containers are more than heavy enough to cause traumatic injury to unfortunate workers in the vicinity. That’s not even getting into the range of goods transported in bulk by sea – some contain explosives, flammables, or other volatile material.

That’s not to say that trucks transporting cargo are completely safe. They also have significant risks when improperly handled. While the scale might be smaller, damages rendered are no less terrifying. A multi-ton cargo container falling off a truck almost always ends in a fatality.

Shipping containers are fastened based on their weight and cargo. It’s important to provide reliable information so the crew can do their jobs right. Providing wrong or lacking information will lead to insufficient support for your shipping container, which could, in turn, lead to tragic incidents.

Final Thoughts

Shipping containers need to be handled properly. It’s a very common cause of accidents, and unfortunately, most of them could have been avoided if proper action was taken. Make sure you know the actual weight of your container – take cargo, dunnage, blocking, and bracing into account for everyone’s sake. If everyone does their job, the worst dangers can be kept at bay.