Unloading A Container – Things To Consider

A business that is involved in the importation of goods from overseas, may often be using container shipping as their preferred mode of transport.

Whilst this is a very cost effective way of shipping goods overseas, one crucial part that many “first time importers” overlook, is the issue of how to unload the container at their premises. Whilst many importers will choose to utilise the container unloading services of a third party warehouse, some businesses would rather handle the unloading themselves at their own storage unit or warehouse.

Of course there are cost savings to be had when choosing to unload the container at your own premises, however, consideration needs to be given to the many factors involved in unloading containers. Such as the time, the resources required, suitable space/area and sufficient space to store the goods once unloaded. In this article we run through a few key points to consider, if you are going to unload a shipping container at your own premises.

How Long Do I Get To Unload A Shipping Container?

In the UK you are typically allowed a maximum free time for unloading of three (3) hours, from the pre-booked arrival time provided to you previously by your shipping agent or freight forwarder. So as an example, if you had a container booked to arrive at your premises for 09:00am, you would have to have the container unloaded and the driver departed no later than 12:00pm (Midday).

This ensures that do not run into waiting time on the truck, which is a fee imposed by the transport company (or shipping line), where their vehicle has been at the delivery point longer than the free period of 3 hours. Waiting time can vary from company to company, so it is always good practice to check on this charge prior to booking delivery of the container.

However as a guide, you can expect to be paying upwards of GBP £55.00 per hour (or part thereof) for the extra time the vehicle remains onsite. Obviously the longer the vehicle remains onsite, after the free period, the more expensive it will become.

Will The Container Be Brought Down To Ground Level For Me To Unload?

Unless you have paid for a specialist vehicle to deliver the container to you and you know it is going to be dropped to ground level for you – always assume the container will remain on the trailer. In most cases of container haulage taking place, the container will always remain attached to the skeletal trailer and the delivery point are expected to access the container themselves.

One thing a lot of people overlook, is the clearance from the ground up to the container – which you can see from the photo below. If you are fortunate enough to have a loading bay, loading dock or ramp at your premises, then this won’t be an issue.

However for those delivery points where these facilities are not available, consideration needs to be given to the clearance from the ground and how best to get your workforce into the container to start unloading.

Whilst this situation is only really an issue for loose loaded containers, rather than palletised goods, you will need to ensure you have a ladder to enable your staff to climb up and gain access to the container.

Do I Need Special Equipment When Unloading A Container?

When it comes to the unloading of a container, there is some equipment you will need to have, to make the process as smooth as possible. Whilst this is not an exhaustive list, these are the essentials in our opinion and would be “must have’s”…

  • Bolt Cutters – you will need a fairly strong pair of bolt cutters, to cut the container seal when the container arrives. The container will have been sealed at origin and these are fairly heavy duty bolts which lock the doors of the container. They are numerically unique and the container seal number will be shown on the bill of lading document and usually on the driver’s delivery paperwork also. You should always note the seal number, to make sure it corresponds to the number shown on the shipping documents/bill of lading.
  • Ladder / Step Ladder – due to the clearance from the ground to the container, it is a good idea to have a ladder to hand, so that your staff can climb up to access to container. For loose loaded containers, it is essential that you can get up into the container to start unloading (also referred to as “hand balling”) the cartons from the container.
  • Pallets – prior to the delivery of the container, you need to consider how you are going to unload and sort the cartons when they’re being unloaded. For example, you may have multiple SKU’s in the container, which all need to be separated. The last thing you want to be doing, is rushing the unloading of hundreds or thousands of cartons onto pallets and then having to sort them all out again, to separate the SKU’s. Double handling is one of the worst things you can be doing, it is a waste of time and resources. Make sure you take note of the packing list to remind yourself of how many cartons you are expecting, how many cartons you will be placing on each pallet and therefore ensure you order in the correct amount of pallets before delivery of the container to your premises. The last thing you want to do is run out of pallets half way through unloading the container!!

Will The Driver Help With Unloading The Container?

The truck driver is not responsible for any part of the unloading of the container. The driver will position the trailer/container to where you require and will usually oversee the cutting of the container seal and opening of the doors.

After this point, you are then solely responsible for unloading the contents of the container along with your team. It is always advisable to consider how many people you are going to need to unload a container in advance of its arrival. Many people overlook this and do not consider the time involved in unloading several hundred (or even several thousand) boxes.