Shipping Container Haulage Options

When loading a shipping container for export there are a number of different options available. Standard container haulage is the most economical option and is used by the majority of big shippers for loading and sending shipping containers around the world.

This guide details the other popular shipping container haulage options

Standard haulage

This is by far the most common type of container haulage.

Maritime Shipping Contianer TruckWith this option the truck arrives at pre-designated time and date, you load and secure all cargo inside the container whilst the container sits on the trailer of the truck. You usually get 3 hours loading time before the haulier will charge additional waiting time, often referred to as ‘demurrage’. When finished the truck leaves site and will drive off to the port, railhead or depot for you.

NB. The container floor is circa. 5ft off the ground, so you will need a loading bay and ramp or you’ll need to man-handle your goods up to the height of the container.

These standard haulage vehicles are designed to back up into a loading bay, usually at a large warehouse or distribution centre. Whilst a 20ft container may travel in the middle position of the truck’s 40ft long trailer, most of these trucks have sliding trailers that can allow the 20ft container to sit flush wit the back of the trailer.

There are further options with this same type of vehicle (especially relevant for regular exporters) where the whole container and trailer can get dropped at your site (AKA ‘a trailer drop’ or a ‘trailer swap’). Care of the additional haulage trip this is often only viable for sites loading 1 or more shipping containers every week. Its also important to mention the trailer is in your care and you can be liable for any costs for recovery and repair if its damaged whilst on your site, and you will likely have to pay a daily rental charge on the trailer itself.

Sidelifter ‘wait and load’ haulage

A Sidelifter truck is a vehicle fitted with 2 heavy lifting cranes and is specifically designed to lift and move loaded shipping containers. With Sidelifter ‘wait and load’ haulage, the truck comes to your site at a pre-designated date and time and the cranes on the truck lift the container onto the ground next to the truck. You then load the container on the ground, after which it is lifted back onto the truck and driven away.

Sidelifter wait and load haulage is very popular with customers who have cars or other large vehicles to load inside, or who aren’t equipped with warehouses with truck loading bays.sideloader container delivery

Sidelifters are extremely rare in the UK with only about 30 vehicles on the UK roads and run by a handful of hauliers, compared with around 7000 standard container trucks. As such, they are typically a fair bit more expensive per mile than a standard container haulage truck, however, they are usually a lot less expensive than getting in a truck and a separate crane to position the container.

A ‘swap-over’ system is also available for regular exporters where the Sidelifter can arrive with your next empty container whilst taking away a container you’ve just loaded on-site. This system is great for exporters who spend a long time loading their containers as it saves on trailer rental costs. It also allows you to load on the ground which can be a lot easier and safer for large or heavy items.

Care of the weights of the cranes, Sidelifter trucks have a reduced carriage capacity when compared to trucks that don’t’ carry cranes. Loads over 20 tones can get difficult or pricey. Please note you cannot open the container doors whilst the container sits on the back of the truck as one of the cranes arms will block the doors from opening, so the shipping container must get lifted off the truck and put on the ground for loading and you cannot load the container whilst it sits on the trailer.

Drop and collect

Hiab Equipped Delivery TruckA truck equipped with a crane arrives at your site (ideally before you need it) and lifts the container onto the ground and leaves it on your site. At a later date (this can be days, weeks or months later) a Sidelifter truck returns to site, lifts the container on and takes it away to port.

Drop and collect haulage is very popular with our customers who want to use a shipping container to store goods on-site as they source or buy them in. However, it is very important to mention that you are responsible for ensuring that the container is accessible for the truck to pick up and drop off, so please check this carefully.

If you are just having one container dropped off and collected in this way, it will often be cheaper if the empty container is delivered via Hiab. This is single armed crane truck with fantastic flexibility as to where it puts a container (but a very small lifting capacity meaning they can only lift and move empty containers). The heavy lifting Sidelifters that come to collect your container once loaded have a very rigid lifting system. Its vitally important that when the empty is dropped off, you ensure a Sidelifter can pick it up at a later date.

You can have a Sidelifter drop off your empty container, but this will usually cost around £100 more than using a hiab (costs vary significantly depending on your location), so you can opt for the more expensive / peace of mind option or look for the cheaper but more involved option. If you’re new to this, we do recommend having a chat with us before proceeding with any booking – we are here to help!

For this loading scenario you may well consider buying one of our removable bulldog shipping container locks allowing you to secure the container, but you can remove the lock when you want to export it and move the lock to your next container.

Basic ‘Need to Know’ when arranging haulage in the UK

  • Virtually all shipping container hauliers in the UK are members of the Road Haulage Association and their terms and conditions of carriage will apply for any deliveries
  • You do not have standard consumer rights or protections with reference to any haulage bookings. It will not be considered a consumer purchase.
  • Different hauliers offer different levels of service so times are never 100% guaranteed, however, most hauliers will not compensate for a late delivery – usually due to problems beyond their control.
  • If you cancel a delivery the haulier has the right to charge for the lost slot on his truck up to the full price of the job. Different hauliers have different notice periods required, so if you wish to avoid cancellation charges please check these carefully.
  • You are legally obliged to notify the haulier if you are asking them to carry any hazardous goods such as paints, pressurised gasses, flammable, explosive or radioactive goods. If you are a noice and intend to move dangerous good in quantity you should seek the advice of a ‘dangerous goods safety advisor’ (DGSA) – there are plenty of good ones to be found via Google.
  • If booking a truck to go to XYZ address, its your responsibility to ensure a truck can physically get into your site and operate there. This may include low hanging branches or bridges immediately outside your site.
  • Generally, each haulage job is a contract. If the information you have given is inaccurate in any way – the hauliers will often charge forward any additional costs incurred as a result of following the information you have given. This can take many forms and different hauliers will charge different amounts. The best defence for this is check the accuracy of the information given and ask questions if you are ever unsure about something. Many people will be very receptive if you let them know your a novice and need help!
  • All container trucks will run at up to 15ft high with a standard height container and up to 16ft with a high cube container loaded. (Exact heights will vary.)  All container tucks are 8ft wide (the same width of a standard shipping container) plus the trucks mirrors.

As ever this guide is not exhaustive, but we have covered the main established ways to have your shipping container delivered if you wish to load it for export use. If you are new to exporting shipping containers we have a number of shipping container guides available that may be of interest to you.

We would like to thank Maritime Transport Ltd, the UK’s largest shipping container haulier, and UK lift and Haul our preferred crane equipped haulier in the South East for the images used in this guide. offer the UK’s largest online range of shipping containers for sale with a nationwide network of storage and conversion yards and crane equipped delivery vehicles.

If you need a shipping container feel free to browse our online range of shipping containers for sale, which also includes our ranges of flat pack sheds, container canopies and more. You can also call us on freephone 0808 1234 215 any time 9am – 7pm weekdays and our team will be happy to discuss your requirements. Alternatively, you can use our online shipping container quote form or request a telephone callback. In both cases we aim to get back to you within 1-2 working hours (may take longer for more detailed quotes).

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