It’s estimated that 11 billion tons of goods move via ocean freight every year. In 2020, 775 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) were shipped globally—the equivalent of 387 million 40′ containers. Additionally, that volume is projected to continually increase into 2024ii—and likely beyond. 

In short, ocean freight is big business, and it all centers around the containers used to transport cargo and goods.  

If you want to discover more about this critical shipping mode, we’ll walk you through the most common option for moving freight via ocean transport: FCL shipments. We’ll explain what FCL means, and we’ll also discuss why it might be the right choice for your business—or not!  (If you want to explore more logistics lingo, make sure to check out our Approved glossary of freight and logistics terms!) 

What Is FCL? 

FCL stands for Full Container Load—a shipment that moves within its own, dedicated container via ocean freight or intermodal freightWithin these modes, your other option would be LCL—a Less than Container Load shipment. An LCL load is a smaller shipment that gets packed into a container with a number of other shipments going to the same destination. 

Why Choose an FCL Shipment Instead of an LCL Shipment? 

When you’re figuring out the best way to ship your cargo, supplies, or goods via ocean freight, you’ll likely find yourself weighing both options: FCL and LCL. 

If your shipment is big enough to take up an entire 40′ container, your decision will be simple.In that scenario, an FCL shipment is likely the right way to go. However, if you’ve only got enough for a 20′ container, you might want to talk to a freight forwarder. They can help you price out both a 20′ FCL solution as well as an LCL solution to help you make the final decision. Depending on the size, weight, and route, LCL might turn out to be cheaper. That’s why it always pays to work with an expert in scenarios like this. However… 

FCL shipments tend to move faster. If you’re working with a forwarder who’s putting together an LCL shipment, they may need to wait for other shipments to arrive before sealing the container and sending it on its way. The wait can be especially long if you’re shipping goods to a destination that’s not as popular with other shippers. 

There’s also another big reason why a business might choose an FCL solution, even for a smaller shipment. Companies who deal in high-value goods sometimes prefer to have a dedicated container all to themselves. For these customers, an FCL solution can provide extra security as well as protection from handling. After all, in an LCL situation, other goods are loaded in and out of the container, which can slightly increase the possibility for damage and, in rare cases, theft.  

However, a freight forwarder can also be useful in this type of situation. They may be able to create a custom solution, such as building a bulkhead in the container to seal off one customer’s goods from all the others.  

What Are the Cons of FCL Shipments? 

To make FCL shipments work for your business and its budget, you need to ship a relatively high volume of goods. If you’re not doing so, an LCL solution is probably right for you.  The best way to know for sure is to talk with a freight forwarder. Together, you can look at the type of goods you’re shipping—as well as your projected volume—and discuss your options. 

Is FCL Related to FTL?  

You’ll hear FCL and LCL used in reference to both ocean and intermodal shipments. However, if you’re talking about shipments that travel over the road, you’ll hear a different set of terms: FTL and LTL. 

•   FCL = Ocean and intermodal freight 

•   FTL = Road freight  

Finding the Right FCL Options for Your Business 

While it is possible to arrange FCL options directly with an ocean freight carrier, working with a freight forwarder has its advantages. A freight forwarder may be able to help you negotiate a better rate, especially if you’re planning on a regular volume of shipments. Additionally, a forwarder can assist with storage and help arrange for convenient, scheduled delivery to and from your business. 

If you’re looking for assistance with your FCL solutions, we’d love to talk with you. Reach out for a complimentary consultation with one of our experts. We’ll discuss your business needs, lay out your options (in plain English!), and connect you with the right solution.  

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