What is an Open Top Shipping Container?

When was the last time you thought about where your commodities come from? We’re trading more goods around the globe than ever before, and most of those products travel by sea. 

About 80 percent of commercial products travel to their final destination via ocean ships. That’s a lot of cargo!

How exactly does all of that stuff fit on those boats? Shipping containers are just as big a business as the cargo they carry, and it’s easy to see why. The specially-designed containers can hold thousands of pounds of goods, and each ship can carry hundreds of containers. 

But what if your cargo is too big for a standard shipping container? Luckily, there are different shipping container options to fit goods of any size and shape, from side opening to flat rack to open top shipping containers. An open top shipping container is the industry’s answer for goods too tall for a regular container with a steel roof.

If you’re looking to haul some oversized cargo, keep reading. This handy guide will tell you everything you need to know about 40ft and 20ft open top shipping containers

What Is an Open Top Container?

open top shipping container

There are several types of shipping containers in the shipping industry built to haul anything from beauty products to housing lumber. Open top shipping containers are a unique type of container. As the name suggests, the top of this special container is entirely open, with the option to cover it with a secured tarp.

You can load these containers through the top with a crane, but you can also load them through the container doors at the end of the container. Top-loading with a crane is ideal for easy loading of cargo that is too bulky to fit through the container doors. 

These Corten steel containers are similar in function to flat rack containers in that they have an open side for loading irregularly sized items. However, a flat rack container only has two walls and a more open design. This allows for greater flexibility in the types of things they can transport. 

Features and Benefits of Open Top Containers

Open top shipping containers have four solid walls but no roof. If the cargo inside permits it, you can cover it with a thick rubber tarp. Strong removable bows will secure the tarp in place to the lashing bars or rings. Aside from securing the covering, they also add some stability to the container structure. 

container tarp

Open top containers also have end doors. Some manufacturers made them with doors on either end (double doors), while some have an entry point only on one end. The doors give you more options for loading cargo into the container. 

Once you’ve loaded your cargo, you can secure it using these containers’ sturdy lashing rings. They can hold up to 2,200 pounds of cargo in place. 

One advantage of an open top container is the larger holding capacity. Since you don’t have to consider the height of the container, it can hold tall and large items that otherwise wouldn’t fit. 

Open Top Container Weight and Dimensions

regular shipping container with an open roof for larger capacity

While most open top containers adhere to standard industry sizing, exact dimensions and weight capacities may vary by manufacturer. Check out this handy table for a breakdown of most open top containers’ weight capacities and sizes. 

20’ Open Top Shipping ContainerWeight / Dimensions
Tare Weight5,181.8 lbs
Payload Capacity62,026.7 lbs
Cubic Capacity1,147.3 cu ft
Internal Dimensions (in feet)19.3 (L) x 7.7 (W) x 7.8 (H)
Door Opening (in feet)7.7 (W) x 7.4 (H)
Roof Opening (in feet)7.3 (W) x 17.8 (L)
40’ Open Top Shipping ContainerWeight / Dimensions
Tare Weight8,489.3 lbs
Payload Capacity58,719.2 lbs
Cubic Capacity2,343.9 cu ft
Internal Dimensions (in feet)39.5 (L) x 7.7 (W) x 7.8 (H)
Door Opening (in feet)7.7 (W) x 7.5 (H)
Roof Opening (in feet)7.3 (W) x 38 (L)

Common Uses, Cargo, and Goods Shipped in Open Top Containers

Open top containers are perfect for carrying bulky and awkwardly-sized cargo. They have several commercial and residential applications and are especially useful for transporting construction materials. Some of the items you can carry in an open top container include:

special containers with tarpaulin cover
  • Cable spools
  • Construction materials, such as steel beams and preformed concrete
  • Assorted lengths and sizes of pipes
  • Debris from construction sites
  • Logs and lumber
  • Bulk recycling items
  • Machinery and parts that are too big for standard transport

All these items and anything tall or wide will easily fit into an open top container. Anything that would be easier to load and unload with a crane would also be perfect for transport in an open top container. 

Costs To Buy Open Top Containers

The price of an open top shipping container depends on several factors, including the age of the container and the type of material used to make it. Older containers will be cheaper to rent and purchase than newly constructed containers. 

Also, containers made with higher-quality steel are likely to cost more than those made with plain steel. Generally, containers can withstand standard pressures to survive the shipping process. But some manufacturers might make containers with more features, which will cost you more in the long run. 

If you are looking for open top shipping containers for sale, you can check local marketplaces and shipping hubs. Online transportation companies often have open top containers for sale also.


Still unsure which type of shipping container is best for your needs? Learn more about them with these frequently asked questions about open top containers. 

Can you stack open top containers?

According to shipping regulations, all containers must be closed to be stacked. You’ll have to cover your open top containers with a sturdy tarp if you want them to stack correctly. Covering them with the tarp will be easy if your cargo fits inside the container. 

However, if your cargo is too tall to be covered by the tarp, you won’t be able to stack any other containers on top of it. Remember that this can increase shipping costs since fewer containers will fit in the same space. 

What’s the difference between a flat-rack and an open top container?

Open top containers have four walls and an open top that a removable roof can cover. They have solid walls and a door for loading and unloading cargo. 
On the other hand, flat rack containers have a base and only two walls. Depending on the manufacturer, the walls can either be fixed or foldable to accommodate longer cargo. 

Flat rack containers are suitable for oddly-shaped goods that won’t fit in a standard closed or open top container. Once loaded, you can secure them with lashing through the sturdy lashing rings. 

How do you open an open top container?

You can secure the rubber tarp that covers an open top container into place with the fasteners on the container itself. Check your container manufacturer for specific details. 

Once the tarp is secured, add roof bows for extra stability. These are metal rods that span the opening of the container and hook into specifically-placed holds located on the top. As mentioned earlier, these roof bows add extra stability to the container. 


If you’re hauling lumber or irregularly-shaped items, an open top shipping container might be the perfect way to transport them. The removable container and optional roof bows make them flexible and durable for all your shipping needs. 

Whether you’re transporting construction materials or lumber, open top containers have the features you need. With so many possibilities for oversea shipping, we hope you’ll consider using an open top shipping container for those oversized cargos that won’t fit anywhere else. 

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