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How to track Shipping Containers?

How to track Shipping Containers?

October 3, 2022
Last Updated:
July 23, 2023
5 min read

The demand for international trade has increased exponentially as the world becomes increasingly globalized.

How to track Shipping Containers?

Table of Contents

The demand for international trade has increased exponentially as the world becomes increasingly globalized. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of containers shipped worldwide.

Unfortunately, this also means that there are more opportunities for containers to go missing. In order to protect your investment and ensure that your containers arrive at their destination, it is important to track them.

Thanks to new technologies, container tracking has become easier and more affordable than ever before. In this article, we'll explain how containers are identified, monitored, and tracked so that you can choose the best solution for your needs.

How Does Container Tracking Work?

Container tracking works by using a unique identifier to track containers as they move through the supply chain. In order to determine the current position of containers, we can either use automatic identification systems (AIS) or container-tracking devices (CTD).

Automatic Identification System (AIS)

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is one of the most important innovations in recent years for tracking container ships. Nowadays, most large international container ships are required to be equipped with Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) by the International Maritime Organization.

It's a system of transponders that are carried on board ships that communicate with each other and with terrestrial stations to exchange information about the ship's position, speed, and heading.  The AIS navigation system also offers information about the status of the cargo container, including the number of containers loaded and unloaded, the weight of each container, and the total weight of the shipment. This information is then used by ship operators and maritime authorities to improve the efficiency of ship operations and to improve safety at sea.

AIS works by transmitting radio waves at specific wavelengths. These waves are sent out at 161.975 MHz and at 162.025 MHz. They cannot be heard or listened to. However, receivers can pick them up and transmit them to the ship's computer. With the help of these receivers and transmitters, the vessel's position can be instantly determined. In other words, the main benefit of AIS is that it allows container ships to be tracked in real-time, which was not possible before. This has led to a significant reduction in the time and cost required to track these ships.

Container Tracking Devices (CTDs)

Container Tracking Devices (CTDs) are another option for tracking containers. CTDs are usually attached to the outside of containers and use GPS to track the location of containers. They typically communicate via cellular networks or satellite systems.

One advantage of CTDs is that they can be used to track containers in areas where there is no AIS coverage, such as smaller vessels that are not required to have AIS or even land-based containers. In addition, CTDs can provide more detailed information about the location of containers than AIS, such as when a container is loaded or unloaded from a vessel.

CTDs typically have a longer battery life than AIS transponders and can be used to track containers for months or even years. However, they are more expensive than AIS transponders and require a monthly subscription fee.

How to Track Containers?

There are several ways to track a container, but the most common method is to use an online tracking system on the shipping company's website. Using this method, you will need the container's reference number to track a container.

Once you have this number, you can enter it into the tracking system and obtain the current location of the container. These codes can include the following:

Container Number (CN)

Container tracking is commonly done using container number plates. This is an accurate way to monitor multiple containers bound to the exact same bill of lading. You can track the location of any number of containers using third-parties websites or the shipping company's online services.

With a tracking app, you can obtain the following information, the:

  • Current location of the container
  • Estimated time of arrival at the next port
  • Departure date from the current port
  • List of all previous ports visited

This information is useful for businesses that need to coordinate the arrival of their shipments with other aspects of their operations. It can also be used to monitor a shipment's progress in transit and respond to delays.

Bill of Lading (BOL)

A bill of lading is a legal document used to record a shipment's details. This document includes information such as the origin and destination of the shipment, the type of goods being shipped, and the value of the goods.

In addition, each bill of lading is assigned a unique number. This number is used to track the progress of the shipment and ensure that it arrives at its destination safely. The number can also be used to locate lost or stolen shipments. As a result, the unique number assigned to each bill of lading plays an important role in ensuring the safe and efficient delivery of goods.

Booking Number (BN)

Every shipping company has its own system for booking cargo space on a vessel. This system includes a unique booking number that is used to track and manage the shipment.

The shipping company's computer system generates the booking number and is typically assigned to a specific shipper. This number is then used to track and manage the shipment throughout the shipping process.

Container Tracking Status Terms

A container tracking status is a term used in the standard maritime terminology for describing the location of containers within a shipping vessel.

The following are the steps and status updates of a container from when it enters the loading port until it leaves the destination port:

  • Port of Loading (POL) — the ports at which the containers are loaded onto ships and the entry points for the Automatic Identification System (AIS)
  • Container Gate In — when the ship arrives at the Port of Entry (POE) or Port of Loading (POL), the date of arrival is noted here
  • Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) — the date and time when the containers are estimated to leave the port
  • Actual time of departure (ATD) / Shipped on Board — the exact time of departure is recorded
  • Transshipment Port — if the containers are transferred to another vessel, the name of that port is recorded here
  • Port of Discharge (POD) / Destination Port — where the containers are offloaded from ships
  • Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) — the estimated time at which a ship arrives at its destination port, which is used to determine shipping dates and deadlines
  • Actual time of Arrival (ATA) — the exact time at which a ship arrives at its destination port
  • Container Gate Out — when containers leave the terminal and are on their way to the consignee

This information is critical for businesses that rely on just-in-time inventory management or need to coordinate the arrival of their shipments with other aspects of their operations. Knowing the current location of your containers and when they are estimated to arrive can help you avoid delays and disruptions in your supply chain.

Where to Track Shipping Containers?

Container Tracking Website

Perhaps the most obvious method is to use a container tracking website. These websites provide up-to-the-minute information on the location of containers all over the world.

For instance, Cargoflip provides real-time tracking of containers. All you need is the container number, and you can track its location and estimated time of arrival.

Shipping Line Websites

Another option is to use the website of the shipping line that is transporting your containers.

Each shipping company has its own website where you can track containers. All you need is the container number and the name of the shipping company.

3PL & 4PL Service Providers

If you are using a third- or fourth-party logistics provider, they will have their own system for tracking containers.

Typically, you will need to login into their website or portal to track your containers.

Benefits of Tracking Shipping Containers

Tracking shipping containers has a number of benefits, including:

  • Improved customer service — provide your customers with up-to-date information on the status of their shipments
  • Reduced shipping costs — optimize your shipping routes and schedules to reduce costs
  • Enhanced supply chain visibility — track containers across the supply chain to identify potential delays and disruptions
  • Improved security — monitor containers to ensure they are not being tampered with or stolen
  • Optimized inventory management — with instant tracking of containers and inventories, you can take immediate action when there are delays in freight shipments and ensure that containers arrive just in time for inventory
  • Improved collaboration — share tracking information with suppliers, partners, and other stakeholders to improve communication and coordination

Track Your Containers in Real-Time

Tracking shipping containers is crucial for any business that relies on cargo transportation. You risk losing thousands of dollars worth of cargo without proper tracking mechanisms if something goes wrong during transit.

On the other hand, understanding the process and using the right tools can minimize shipping delays and ensure your goods arrive at their destination on time and in good condition.

Cargoflip offers a real-time container tracking solution so you can always know where your containers are. Our platform provides instant updates on the location and status of your cargo, so you can keep your business running smoothly.

If you’re looking for a reliable way to track shipping containers, Cargoflip is the answer. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

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