by WO_ShippingNews

How Sea Freight Works

As consumers we’re all so used to having access to exotic foods from around the world, the latest computer technology and designer items such as clothes and furniture, accessible to buy in the UK. But we never think about the journey those products take to be in our stores.

Keeping import and export channels moving is essential for the continuous supply of goods, Sea Freight allows import and exporters the ability to transport tonnes of goods into our countries and our stores at one time.

Fruit, frozen foods, mobile phones, computers, furniture, iron ore, cars…are all items which are usually imported by sea.

But, do you know how these goods are shipped from country to country by Sea Freight?

Here’s how it works:

How shipping containers are loaded

Once the containers have arrived at the port they are loaded onto ships by massive cranes. The containers are stacked on top of each other and can be as deep as 40 x 40 metres.

Once the space below the deck has been filled, a hatch cover is placed on top so that more containers can be added.

Fruit and frozen products are shipped in reefer containers, which is short for refrigerated containers. Reefer containers keep foods stored at temperatures that ensure that the produce stays fresh. The range of temperatures that reefer containers can store food is from -35°C to 30°C.

Sea Freight Fun Fact!

The biggest container ships in use today can hold up to 750 million bananas in 15,000 containers. That’s one Banana for every person in Europe and North America.

packing food for shipping

How ships dock at port

Once the ship has reached its destination, it is time for the ship to be docked at port. When the ship is approaching the port, a local maritime pilot will board the ship to assist the ship’s pilot on docking, as they possess specialised knowledge of the port. Next, a tugboat will push and guide the ship into its slot at the dock. The ship will be berthed using Ropes.

Container types used in Sea Freight

The most commonly container types and methods used for sea freight are listed below:

  • Full container load (FCL) – where cargo completely occupies the entirety of the shipping container.
  • Less than container load (LTCL) – means when cargo does not fill the inside of a shipping container.
  • Roll on roll off (RORO) –when vans, cars, trucks and other vehicles drive onto a ship and unload their cargo.
  • Dry bulk shipping – products such as metal ores and coal are directly poured onto the hold of a ship, instead of being loaded into containers.

Advantages and disadvantages of sea freight

For businesses looking to use sea freight to ship goods, there are several advantages and disadvantages to consider before making a freight booking.


  • Ideal for large loads
  • Much cheaper than air freight
  • Lower customs duties and VAT

Oversized and heavy cargo can be shipped easily using sea freight services, pretty much anything can be transported by Sea.

Ocean freight can be up to six times less expensive than air freight when comparing the two services over long distances.

Sea freight VAT and duty can be cheaper than air freight because it is calculated as a percentage cost of the goods, in addition to the cost of export.


  • Time, it can take weeks for goods to arrive
  • Not ideal for small loads
  • Higher chance of damage than air freight during transportation

It takes much longer to goods to reach their destination using Sea Freight when compared to air freight. Estimated times range from 3 weeks from the UK to the East coast of the USA to 8 weeks from the UK to Australia.

Sending small loads by air freight is more cost-effective than sea freight, as sea freight is ideal for large loads.

Occasionally, goods transported by Sea may get damaged due to improper packing and movement during transportation.

Sea Freight Fun Fact!

90% of the all of the world’s commodities travel by sea freight.



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written by WO_ShippingNews

23rd March 2020

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