We’ve all been there: staring at a piece of paper with some figures on it. You know the answer to the question is in those numbers somewhere, but you aren’t sure where to start. We worked with our pricing team to come up some quick examples of math specifically for the freight industry. Instead of getting stuck trying to figure out how to calculate cubic feet, or wondering if your freight will fit through the opening of a container, you’ll know the answer to your questions. Just by learning a few simple equations you’ll be on the road to expertise in no time.

Want an easy cheat sheet to remember the math? Click here and download a printable PDF for your office and workspace

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Calculating Cubic Feet

In the world of freight – especially ocean freight – knowing your the volume of your goods in cubic feet is clutch. To accurately calculate cubic feet, you will need to have accurate measurements of your freight. Check out our guide on How to Measure Freight here if you are unsure how to do so correctly. Finding the cubic of your goods is only a three-step process. Simple for even the most mathematically challenged!

To begin, you’ll need to multiply the length by the width by the height. For example, if you have a pallet of boxes measuring 48″ long by 48″ wide by 48″ high, multiply 48 x 48 x 48. In this example, you should arrive at 110,592. We know, it’s a big number, but you are almost there! Take this number – 110,592 – and divide it by 1,728 (the total number of inches in a cubic foot): 110,592 / 1,728 = 64. In this case, 64 is your total cubic feet for your shipment.

Keep this number handy, so when acquiring a quote, or setting up a pick-up or delivery, you can supply your provider with the most accurate information possible. Most companies will rate your shipment by the total cubic feet.

So How Much Will Fuel Cost?

Not knowing the price of fuel up front can lead to some uninvited surprises when the time for payment rolls around. Be sure to ask your carrier which rate they will use when shipping your goods. With this information and the simple formula below, you’ll know exactly how much you are expected to pay before you even see your invoice.

If the current rate of fuel is 24.5% you will multiply your total freight charges by this number. Let’s say you are shipping your newest product less-than-container load over the ocean with Approved. Your shipment is a total of 450 cubic feet, and your total ocean charges (without fuel) are $1,575. Take the total ocean charges and multiply by the fuel like this:

1,575 x 1.245 = 1,960.88

Now, you know your total charge (with fuel) will be $1,960.88 – meaning you will pay $385.88 in fuel charges (1,960.88 – 1,575 = 385.88)

Easy right? We recommend using a calculator so you know your calculations are 100% accurate. You’ll be able to project and forecast your revenue and costs more precisely.

Finding the Density

If you’ve already found how to calculate cubic feet and volume (illustrated in the steps above), you are half-way to detecting the density of your shipment. The next piece of the density puzzle is knowing the weight of your load. Having a scale, or keeping data from previous deliveries, will come in handy.

Once you know your weight, you’ll want to run it through this simple formula: Weight / Volume = Density. So if you have a shipment that is 64 cf and weighs 400 lbs, your equation will look like this:

400 / 64 = 6.25 pounds per cubic foot

This equation is a great way to understand which freight class your shipment will be rated. Ocean freight forwarders will look closely at your density to know how your goods will fit into their mix.

Will my pallets fit?

There are a variety of sizes and shapes available for shipping containers. Most Ocean Freight Forwarders and 3PLs like Approved will deal mostly in 40′ and 45‘ standard and high cube containers. The number of pallets and amount of goods will vary with the type of container but here are a few general rules to follow when trying to understand how many of your pallets will fit in a shipping container.

TYPE40FT STANDARD40ft HIGH CUBE45ft HIGH CUBE
External Length40ft40ft45ft
External Width8ft8ft8ft
External Height8ft 6″9ft 6″9ft 6″
Internal Length39ft 4″39ft 4″44ft 4″
Internal Width7ft 8″7ft 8″7ft 8″
Internal Height7ft 10″8ft 10″8ft 10″
Door Opening Width7ft 8”7ft 8″7ft 8″
Door Opening Height7ft 5”8ft 5″8ft 5″
Internal Cubic Capacity2,386 cu feet2,690 cu feet3,040 cu feet

As you can see from the chart above, the differences in dimensions for the 3 most common shipping containers only vary slightly. But the extra inches and feet could mean the difference between having to spread your shipment out over multiple containers. If your goods hang over the edges of your pallets – making them wider than 4 ft – you may not be able to place two pallets side by each. Carriers try to maximize space by placing as much as possible in each container. This cuts down on costs for everyone involved.

Is your freight stackable? A critical piece of information when shipping is to know the structural integrity of your product. If your goods can withstand the pressure of stacking, its footprint will be significantly reduced, allowing your freight forwarder to utilize the space alongside. There are many tricks to maximizing the space inside a container. Great transportation providers will do everything they can to load safely, securely, while maintaining low costs for shippers. If you aren’t sure how your freight will “stack up,” you can always ask one of our experts for assistance. It’s like a giant puzzle, and we love finding solutions that work for everyone.

That Pesky 45lb Density Rule

You may or may not be familiar with this obscure rule of ocean freight shipping. This only applies to a handful of shipments, but you should still be familiar it, in case it ever happens.

When referring to the 45 lb rule, transportation providers are referring to the “cargo density limit” for ocean freight shipping. When this rule is applied, the qualifying goods will be rated as 45 lbs = 1 cubic foot. Meaning if the density of a shipment exceeds 45 lbs per cubic foot, the chargeable volume will be equal to the total weight divided by 45 (lbs). So if you had a shipment that weighed 500 lbs, but was only 6 cf – your shipment would be rated at 11 cf (500 / 45 = 11).

It’s a simple formula, but it can become confusing when your invoice comes through. Good Hawaii and Guam ocean freight forwarders will communicate this up front. Your logistics partner should help you understand your price. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand – the Approved ‘Ohana is happy to help.


Now you are on your way to becoming a freight calculating machine! We suggest going and trying these formulas on your own. Take some of the data you have from previous shipments and run them through the equations mentioned above. A little practice will go a long way in achieving freight expertise.

Grab our cheat sheet to remember the math! Click below and download a printable PDF for you and your co-workers

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