How to Track a Containership: 5 Tested Ways for Visible Cargo

There’s so much you can achieve by tracking your cargo shipments. You could lower costs, minimise charges and anticipate delays.

Promising, right?

If intrigued, read on as we’ll cover everything you need to know about tracking a containership. We’ll also discuss:

  • Four benefits of monitoring your ocean shipments
  • How you can track those shipments
  • And how you can improve your supply chain management with the right tools

So, let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

4 Key Benefits of Sea Shipment Tracking

5 Ways to Track Cargo on a Containership

4 Key Benefits of Sea Shipment Tracking

Tracking ocean shipments is vital. 

It helps professionals in the shipping industry avoid unforeseen delays, disruptions, backlogs, and shipping issues that can heavily impact ocean freight shipment lanes and shipping cycles. 

When accurate tracking data is available, shippers, carriers, and customers can enjoy the following key benefits.

Benefit #1: Eliminate blind spots

Having full visibility of shipments while they are travelling by ocean is vital for businesses to make well-informed decisions regarding their transportation plans. Having the ability to track a shipment in real time and eliminate all blind spots has multiple benefits. For one, it gives business owners the peace of mind of knowing exactly where their shipment is at any given moment thus eliminating the worry while also allowing them to act proactively, saving time and money at the same time.

Benefit #2: Improved efficiency

Tracking and tracing sea shipments is about more than just monitoring the locations of vessels. 

In addition to displaying the real-time location of a ship, shipping trackers offer increased visibility into a voyage’s status, weather conditions, and at-sea traffic. 

This comprehensive overview of what obstacles might lay ahead allows shippers to plan more efficiently, minimising delays, and saving time and money.

Benefit #3: Enhanced customer experience

Usually, when shipments are late, businesses are left waiting impatiently with no idea of when to expect them. 

Everyone hates that uncertainty.

The ability to track and trace sea freight allows everyone to have peace of mind, knowing exactly where their products are and when they should arrive. 

Benefit #4: Fewer fees

Extra charges that container tracking can help you avoid include detention, demurrage and other surcharges caused by shipment delays. 

Having access to the real-time cargo status and position, based on multiple sources of information can help supply chain professionals adjust their planning and avoid unexpected delays and associated charges.

So, tracking shipments is vital in today’s market as it can give you a competitive edge. 

We’ve covered the why. Now let’s get to the how-to part of tracking a containership.

5 Ways to Track Cargo on a Containership

Tracking containerships used to be a pretty challenging task that required everyone to visit different carrier websites and make multiple phone calls to different people. 

The whole process was hugely inconvenient. 

Today, however, things have changed. There are multiple ways to track your cargo on containerships.

Let’s take a look at some of them. 

Way #1: Personal, up-close monitoring

Some shipments are so valuable that they need constant care and supervision throughout their journey. 

If you have the time, it is still possible to hitch a ride on an ocean-going containership. This provides a no-frills travel experience and the opportunity to keep your cargo in sight at all times. 

However, despite the low comfort levels, passenger rates on containerships aren’t cheap.

With most sailings from China to Europe taking around a month, this is one of the most time-consuming and expensive options.

If you have access to your cargo before it begins its voyage, consumer GPS tracking devices can be purchased for under €200. 

These devices allow you to watch the passage of your cargo in more or less real-time. 

However, without access to the device during the voyage, you are unable to prevent any damage to the antenna or other vital parts that could stop it from functioning. 

Also, if the sailing is delayed, which happens regularly for weeks at a time, you run the risk of the device’s battery going flat and completely losing the signal.

Way #3: Live satellite imagery

With the knowledge of which vessel your cargo will be carried on, you can pay for satellite imagery that will allow you to track the vessel’s journey across the ocean. 

However, with high daily costs and no guarantee that you will be able to keep tracking your ship if it runs into bad weather or diverts from its planned course, this could be an expensive and unreliable option.

Way #4: Container tracking services

Each standard intermodal container carries its own unique ISO 6346 international shipping container standard information reporting mark, which can be tracked and monitored at every major freight shipment terminal the cargo passes through. 

However, as this is not a live tracking system like GPS, you are left unaware of the container’s location for the long time it spends between terminals, such as when in transit via rail, road or sea.

Some shipping companies offer customers the option of tracking their containers. However, this often relies on satellite technology that tracks the vessel’s name and booking number rather than the individual container lines. 

Not all companies offer this service. With companies that do, though, you have no guarantees about the timeliness or accuracy of the tracking information.

Way #5: AIS Vessel Tracking

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is composed of small transponders fitted to cargo ships worldwide. 

Their location broadcasts are collected by a vast network of receivers and can be aggregated to create a near-real-time picture of global shipping traffic. 

If you know the IMO number or the name of the vessel carrying your cargo, you can enter this with an AIS marine tracking intelligence provider, to increase your cargo visibility and track its progress at sea. 

Increased cargo visibility comes with benefits,  such as:

  • Global coverage: You can track your shipments in any location around the world through three different SAT AIS providers.
  • Position frequency: You’ll get access to the most updated, real-time locations of your cargo every 15 minutes, round the clock.
  • Unlimited flexibility: Whether you have just one shipment incoming or ten from different locations, you can track them all in one place through single, real-time visibility solutions. 

Most services allow you to check the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and time of departure for all port calls and to receive notifications about important events that happen during the ship’s voyage.

For example, diversions, adverse weather conditions, or terminal issues that could affect the ETA. 

However, what makes a container tracking platform worth your while is the accuracy of the ETAs it outputs.

Improve your container tracking with the right tool

Whether you’re expecting just one container or a thousand, your business needs a container tracking system to increase delivery predictability. 

Improving how you track your sea shipments does offer cost-cutting benefits that can positively impact your bottom line.

Of course, for that, you’ll need the right tool.

To offer you the most precise ETAs possible, MarineTraffic Visibility for Containers solution fuses unmatched AIS, track & trace data from more than 130 carriers, vessel schedules, and machine learning techniques to provide real-time container position insights. You can now rest assured that you have all information at hand to make more informed decisions.    Not only that but you can share the shipment status with all stakeholders to help everyone be on the same page and avoid the huge number of phone calls and emails. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Is there an app to track containerships?

Yes, there are specialised apps and platforms developed to help users track containerships. For example, MarineTraffic Visibility for Containers solution combines AIS, track & trace data from more than 130 carriers, and vessel schedules empowered with machine learning to provide real-time container position insights in a unified, user-friendly platform.  

Q2. How do I know what ocean my container is on?

Every container has an alpha-numeric tracking number (called a container number) assigned to it. You can log in to your MarineTraffic account, navigate to the “my shipments” tab and add the Shipments you want to track based on bill of lading, booking reference, or container number.