What are Flat Rack Shipping Containers?

If you have been in the shipping industry for years, there is a high chance you know a lot about shipping containers. Now that you are expanding into the global market, this may be a different experience.

So, should you stick to the standard containers, or should you switch to flat racks?

Keep reading to learn more about flat rack containers and how they work.

What is a Flat Rack Container?

flat rack container with forklift pockets

A flat rack container is a container that doesn’t have two side walls and a roof. It has a strong base and two short walls at the edge of the base since the longer walls are missing, making it seem like a rack.

Due to their unique dimensions, flat racks are ideal for bulky cargo that can’t fit in a normal container, using a tarpaulin to cover them since they have an open-top.  

You also need to use straps to tie down the cargo after loading it on a flat rack container. This cargo securement resembles how people tie goods on a flatbed trailer.

With flat racks, it’s done using lashing rings on the sides, rails, and/or corners. You can also use lashing belts, lashing winches, and stanchions to make sure your cargo stays safe.

lashing rings used to tie down cargo

Different methods are applied when loading cargo on flat racks. For instance, heavy goods are loaded using a crane from the top and are secured after placing them on the base. For light cargo, they are loaded using a forklift from the sides.

Flat racks have become common since their inception because of their unique ability to carry various types of bulky machinery on container vessels.

Types of Flat Rack Containers and How They’re Used

The two main types of flat rack containers include collapsible and non-collapsible flat rack containers.

Let’s discuss these containers in detail.

Collapsible Flat Rack Containers

folding container

Collapsible flat rack containers have walls at the base edges that can be folded or detached when not in use. You can easily store your cargo in these walls because the walls are normally detached to create more space.

Detaching the walls and folding them is easy, but it varies with each container. This is because some containers may be harder to fold than others.

The main shortcoming of collapsible flat rack containers is that they may not be strong. The strength of a container depends on how the walls can hold the cargo in place without collapsing.

With collapsible flat rack containers, it may be risky because the walls may collapse during transit when transporting many items because they can be detached. So, you must take extra precautions when using these containers.

Non-Collapsible Flat Rack Containers

non-collapsible flat racks with fixed walls

Non-collapsible flat rack containers have rigid walls that cannot be detached, and are stronger than collapsible flat racks.

The primary shortcoming of these containers is that stowing can be an issue because they aren’t stackable and take up a lot of space when not in use.

The benefit of using non-collapsible flat racks though is that they are stronger, can handle more weight, and can take a higher top-load than collapsible containers can.

Flat Rack Container Weight and Dimensions

Flat rack containers primarily have the same external dimensions as other containers. The main difference is that they have one-sided walls and do not have a door or other openings that can aid in the measurement.

Let’s discuss the dimensions to consider when dealing with flat rack containers.

20’ Flat Rack Container

Traders mainly use the 20’ flat rack container for carrying heavy loads, such as pipes and machines. You can either choose a 20’flat rack container that is collapsible or non-collapsible.

The table below illustrates the 20’ flat rack container dimensions.

LengthWidthHeightTare WeightPayload CapacityCubic Capacity
20’ Flat Rack5.94m or 19.5 Feet2.35m or 7.7 Feet2.35m or 7.7 Feet2,360 kgs or 5,203.8 lbs30,140 kgs or 66,458.7 lbs32.7 m3 or 1,154.3 cu ft

40’ Flat Rack Container

Traders use this container if the 20’ flat rack container is not big enough to store their items. The 40’ flat rack container is ideal for holding heavy cargo, such as machines that must be loaded from the top.

You will find both collapsible and non-collapsible containers when looking for this type of container.

The table below depicts the 40’ flat rack container dimensions.

LengthWidthHeightTare WeightPayload CapacityCubic Capacity
40’ Flat Rack12.13m or 39.8 Feet2.40m or 7.9 Feet2.14m or 7 Feet5,000 kgs or 11,025 lbs40,000 kgs or 88,200 lbs62.2 m3 or 2,195.7 cu ft

Based on the above dimensions, the main advantage of a flat rack shipping container is that there is no volume limit. The lack of side walls and roofs makes it easy for traders to meet these containers’ payload criteria.

Common Uses, Cargo and Goods Shipped in Flat Rack Containers

Flat rack containers can either be used for commercial or residential purposes. Let’s explore these uses in detail.

Commercial Uses

Many traders use flat rack shipping containers because they are spacious. It allows them to transport many goods in one shipment, reducing the total shipment costs. Examples of cargo transported using flat rack containers include:

  • Heavy machinery
  • Tanks
  • Transformers
  • Cranes
  • Glass
  • Pipes and tubes
  • Steel
  • Boilers
  • Construction equipment

Traders use flat rack containers for two main reasons.

First, it is easy to load and unload goods. Since these containers do not have walls, you can load and unload goods from the top or the side. This differs from ordinary containers with side walls, meaning one can only load the container through the door.

The loading and unloading process is easy and less strenuous when using flat rack containers.

Here’s an example of construction equipment being loaded/unloaded onto a 20ft flat rack container.

YouTube video

Second, flat rack containers are heavy. Most flat rack containers are heavier than steel, meaning you can load more goods than ordinary containers. Traders use these containers because they minimize the transport and time costs.

Residential Uses

Flat rack shipping containers are only used for residential purposes when transporting household items that require air circulation. Since these machines do not have walls, they provide sufficient air circulation for your items.

Examples of residential cargo transported in flat rack shipping containers include livestock, flowers, and plants.

Cost to Rent or Buy Flat Rack Containers

Most flat rack shipping containers for sale have pricing that varies quite a bit depending on the port you’re buying out of, the condition, and the type of flat rack container.

The prices of these flat rack containers for sale also vary based on the size of each container. For instance, a 20’ flat rack container may cost from $4,200 to $7,500, while a 40’ flat rack container can cost upwards of $7,900 to $11,900.

If you only need them for a short period of time, renting flat racks might be a more viable option. However, finding rentals can be difficult as most companies prefer to sell them outright.

If you are able to find some rentals available, expect to pay around $200 to $500 per month.


In conclusion, flat rack shipping containers are an essential part of the logistics industry. They provide a versatile and sturdy option for transporting large, unusual loads, and can be used in a variety of settings.

With their many benefits, it’s no wonder that flat rack shipping containers are becoming increasingly popular.

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