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What Is Container Stowage Planning?

Container Stowage Planning

Posted on 02-21-2017 by Lucia Garza

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Even for die-hard road warriors, packing for a long trip can be a struggle. In this era of skyrocketing baggage fees, weight restrictions, and size limits, space is very much at a premium. When’s the last time you stood, beaming with pride, at your first-rate packing job – only to realize you’d forgotten a critical item and needed to start from scratch?

Packing a Really Big Bag

Maritime shippers face the same basic problem – on a much larger scale, of course. “Unpacking” the cargo hold of a massive container ship is a gargantuan task, not to mention a major waste of time and money.

That’s where container stowage planning comes in. Container stowage planning is a semi-automated process by which shippers arrange cargo for optimal efficiency.

Every port, from the smallest outposts to the largest hubs, executes container stowage plans. However, according to Shipping and Freight Resource, much of the actual planning occurs in centralized hubs at the intersection of major shipping lanes, such as Singapore and Rotterdam.

A Look Inside the Hull

Container stowage planning wouldn’t be possible without an effective cargo organization system. Container vessels’ cargo holds are subdivided into container-sized units using a simple, three-dimensional organization system. Holds are first split into bays, which are numbered: lowest toward the front (bow), highest toward the back (stern). Bays are then further divided into lateral rows and vertical tiers.

Each 20-foot unit of space is a unique stow position. Stow positions are identified by their locations on the bay-row-tier matrix, known as the bay plan. For instance, stow position 210608 identifies the container (or empty space) at Row 06 and Tier 08 of Bay 21.

Container Stowage Planning Considerations

On a fully loaded vessel, containers are packed and stacked deep into their bays. When a container is loaded improperly, every container impeding its removal must first be removed and placed on the wharf, then re-loaded once the offending container is gone. When such errors occur belowdecks, the process is especially time-consuming.

To avoid such issues, the human specialists responsible for developing and executing container stowage plans at each port need accurate information about:

Ports of Call: Planners need complete lists of ships’ subsequent ports of call, in the proper order. Containers bound for the farthest ports are loaded first, as there’s no need for immediate access.

Container Size and Weight: Heavier containers are loaded first; lighter containers sit on top. Likewise, 20-foot containers are loaded first, with 40-foot containers (if any) stacked above for stability.

Container Contents: Containers with hazardous contents must be specially secured and segregated from non-hazardous cargo.

Complete Stowage Lists: Containers bound for subsequent ports obviously must remain onboard once loading and unloading is complete. Master lists accounting for every container, with accurate destination information, are therefore essential.

Due to the size and complexity of modern ocean-going container vessels, powerful software programs are responsible for synthesizing this raw data into efficient, error-free plans. But the “garbage in, garbage out” principle applies here: without accurate and timely information, waste is inevitable.

Beyond Maritime Shipping

The fundamental principles of container stowage planning – speed, efficiency, safety – apply to non-maritime shipping as well. Though organization systems and best practices vary, railcars and tractor-trailers involve differences of degree, not kind. Companies that specialize in land-based shipping can still learn a great deal from the amazingly effective protocols of container stowage planning.

What steps are you taking to streamline your company’s logistics operation?