Full Container Load and Less than Container Load Explained

If you have sent goods overseas by sea freight before, chances are that you have heard of the terms Full Container Load (FCL) and Less than Container Load (LCL).

The terms Full Container Load and Less than Container Load are fairly straightforward concepts to understand.

A Full Container Load is a shipment where a container is used exclusively for a single shipment and the container space is not shared with any other cargo. Most shippers will choose to send their goods as a Full Container Load when they have bulky freight (at least over eight pallets) in order to receive value for money, although the shipper does not need to fill the container to the brim to use this option.

In some scenarios it is actually more cost effective to send the goods in an exclusive container rather than sharing this space with other cargo (Less than Container Load). Some shippers prefer to send their goods as a Full Container Load because it eliminates the risk of other cargo belonging to other shippers damaging their goods during transit. This is more important for fragile shipments.

Full Container Loads generally come in two sizes, which are 20 and 40 feet in length. The internal dimensions of these containers are shown below:

20 Foot Container: 5,896 mm (L) x 2,350 mm (W) x 2,393 mm (H)
40 Foot Container: 12,032 mm (L) x 2,350 mm (W) x 2,393 mm (H)

If you choose the Full Container Load option, the shipper at origin would usually be responsible for loading and securing all goods inside the container within a 2-3 hour window and the container will remain attached to the cab whilst the loading takes place. A drop and pack option is available where the container is lowered to the ground at origin and then is recollected at a later date, however, this is much more costly.

A Less than Container Load is one which does not require the full capacity of a 20 or 40 foot container. If you use this option you will generally pay for your share of the container space used instead. Therefore if you have one pallet to send overseas it would be much more cost effective for it to be sent as a Less than Container Load. This pallet would then travel inside a container with other cargo belonging to other shippers. One significant disadvantage with Less than Container Load shipping relates to customs formalities. If another shipper has their consignment stopped for a customs inspection and this consignment is inside the same container as your cargo, the whole container will be inspected, which could lead to delays with your cargo.

If you are considering sending goods as a Less than Container Load , it may also be worthwhile checking the air freight options. Air freight carries a significantly quicker transit time and in some scenarios it can also be less costly than LCL.

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