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What's the Difference Between Bulk and Container Shipping?

What's in this article?
  1. Bulk Shipping
  2. Dry Bulk Cargo
  3. Liquid Bulk Cargo
  4. Container Shipping
  5. Reefer Container Vs Dry Container
  6. Dry Containers
  7. Reefer Containers
  8. Conclusion
What's the Difference Between Bulk and Container Shipping?

Bulk shipping describes shipments where multiple items in boxes are grouped for transport without shipping containers. Distribution centers and warehouses are common places for this kind of shipping.

Container shipping is the process of sending products one at a time inside a container. Shipments of this sort are often handled at a terminal or port. The costs of sending parcels vary depending on the items' size and weight.

The major distinction between bulk and container shipping is the vessel they are transported on. Keep reading this article to discover the ins and outs of both so you can decide which one is best for your items.

Bulk Shipping

Bulk shipping is shipping goods and other products via a cargo shipping vessel. These are vessels with a large cavity for transporting and storing goods. There are two distinct kinds of bulk cargo: dry bulk and liquid bulk.


Dry bulk cargo

The dry bulk cargo includes raw materials such as coal, gypsum, slag, and clinker, as well as foods such as sugar and grain and other commercial products such as clothing.

These things are loaded directly into the ships through the many hatches and ports that are easily accessible. In addition, dry bulk items are loaded aboard ships in vast quantities using packing methods known as bulk packing.

When transporting bulk goods, ships of varying capacities are available. The deadweight, or DWT, is the primary metric used to assess the carrying capacity of bulk carriers, also known as bulkers.

Because of their size, bulk carriers often only have a few different cargo holds available. This category of bulk carrier is responsible for transporting comparable commodities, and they often only cater to a single customer or a limited group of customers at a time.

Some customers prefer to rent the ship rather than share the expense of transporting their goods with others who need to transport cargo.

There are two main ways to engage a bulker: on a short-term basis, known as a "spot basis," or on a longer-term basis, known as an "affreightment."

Ships with gears and those without are both used to deliver cargo in bulk.

Liquid bulk cargo

The liquid bulk cargo includes everything from natural liquids (LNG), such as liquid propane gas (LPG) and chemicals, to food-grade quality liquids like olive oil or wine.

Ships specifically built for transporting liquids in bulk are required to have storage tanks. The vessels used to transport oil are commonly referred to as tanker ships.

Further categorization of liquid bulk carriers is possible based on the type of cargo carried. Attention to onboard safety protocols is required whenever hazardous liquid bulk is transported.

Container Shipping

Container shipping includes any shipment loaded into containers and lifted onto a container shipping vessel. Items range from fresh food to home furnishings. Refrigerated containers transport perishable goods that must be kept at a specific temperature.

Different-sized containers can be piled strategically on a container ship's hold. In addition, because the containers are sealed before they leave the port, sending stuff overseas is less risky.

Some containers can be transferred directly from the port onto waiting for truck beds or railroad wagons without wasting time unloading.

Reefer Container vs. Dry Container

Dry containers, much like refrigerated containers, are an efficient and low-cost way to move huge amounts of merchandise from one location to another. However, both can be utilized for long-distance transport, be it over land or over water.

The particulars will vary depending on the carrier that is utilized. When compared to shipping via air, the use of containers offers a multitude of benefits, many of which are considerable. The fundamental difference between ordinary containers and reefer containers is the architecture of the container.


Dry containers

Dry containers store shipments that do not need to be maintained at a certain temperature. The standard length is 40 feet; however, some versions are only 20 feet long.

The robust steel design of the containers makes them impervious to the elements, including wind, rain, and the ocean. Modifications can be made to dry containers to enhance their already impressive level of safety or to make room for specialized goods.

There are a few standard types of dry containers used in many different fields:

  • Storage roll containers
  • Half-height containers
  • Open-top containers
  • Double door containers
  • Open-side containers
  • Tunnel containers
  • Flat racks

There are several applications for dry shipping containers.

In addition to their traditional use as shipping containers, a number of businesses have found innovative uses for unused dry containers, such as offices, mobile clinics, stores, restaurants, storing heavy equipment, warehouses, and even homes.

Reefer containers

Insulated and refrigerated reefer containers have their temperature and humidity controls built in.

Perishable goods can be safely transported over long distances using reefer containers. This allows the shipper to regulate the internal temperature, humidity, and airflow of the consignment. You can't have the cold-chain transportation process without them.

Due to the perishable nature of the goods stored inside, reefer containers typically feature metal walls, ceilings, and roofs. Due to the addition of the refrigeration system, these containers will be significantly heavier than their dry equivalents.

In addition to the standard 20' and 40' lengths, reefer containers can also be found in various custom sizes. Most regular reefer containers lack their own power sources and instead rely on auxiliary generator sets mounted on the chassis during port transportation.

The most advanced reefer containers feature an onboard power source, simplifying the logistics of finding generator sets for inland trips.



Bulk and container shipping are two very different types of shipping. Container shipping transports goods inside containers, while Bulk shipping is used for items packed into boxes and shipped together inside a cargo ship cavity.

A-1 Auto Transport is the superior choice for all your shipping needs, with years of experience and professionalism. We offer both bulk and container shipping solutions. To find out more, go to

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Joe Webster always knew the auto transport industry would be a great career option. And with decades of experience, Joe is now an established consultant for A1 Auto Transport.

Joe was born in Santa Cruz, California. During high school, Joe worked as a mechanic; a job continued to work part-time during his bachelor's degree.

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus Drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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