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How to Transport Shipping Containers

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How do you transport storage containers? When containers weigh several tons, it can be a difficult question to answer. However, there are multiple ways that you can move these steel giants.

In commercial applications, where forklifts are commonly used, containers are easy to transport around a facility, making them valuable to daily operations. But over longer distances, a flatbed truck is recommended.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the portability of shipping containers and explain how to transport them.

What’s The Difference Between 20ft and 40ft’s Containers’ Portability?

There are a few differences between moving 20ft and 40ft containers. We may have additional sizes available in our stock, but 20’s and 40’s are most common because they’re the standard in international shipping.

Information Regarding 20ft Containers’ Portability

  • A standard 20ft container is 20’ L x 8’ W x 8’6” H
  • A high cube 20ft container is 20’ L x 8’ W x 9’6” H
  • 20ft containers offer 150 feet2 of interior storage space
  • The standard weight of an empty 20ft container is about 5,000 lbs
  • 20ft containers can handle a net load of 60,000 lbs
  • 20ft containers can be picked up with a forklift, even when loaded with material

Information Regarding 40ft Containers’ Portability

  • A standard 40ft container is 40’ x 8’ x 8’6” (L x W x H)
  • A high cube 40ft container is 40’ x 8’ x 9’6” (L x W x H)
  • 40ft containers offer 300 feet2 of interior storage space
  • The standard weight of an empty 40ft container is 9,000 lbs
  • 40ft containers can handle a net load of 60,000 lbs
  • 40ft containers can be picked up with a forklift, even when loaded with materials

Before transporting a container, it’s important to understand what type of forklift is required to move it. Let’s examine what makes a forklift capable of transporting a container.

A forklift operator drives around a shipping container storage lot.
Forklifts can move both 20ft and 40ft containers between different areas on a site, but only loaded 20ft containers can be transported on public roads. 40ft containers can be transported on public roads, but only when unloaded.

What Type of Forklift Do You Need to Transport Storage Containers?

We recommend using high-capacity forklifts that are used for industrial purposes. We prefer using forklifts that have a capacity of 36,000 lbs. (173 tons), although forklifts that can handle between 16,000 and 40,000 lbs. are commonly used for container transport.

In general, you’ll be more secure using a forklift with a higher capacity than required. If you’re moving loaded 20ft containers or other heavy material frequently, you may want to get a forklift that is in the upper end of that range.

When using forklifts, it’s important to ensure that the load is evenly distributed across the forks. Loads that are uneven in one direction can cause damage to your container. Additionally, containers are 8 feet wide, requiring forklifts with long forks.

Loads that are uneven in one direction can cause damage to your container. Don’t attempt to move containers with a forklift with forks shorter than 6 feet, as this can puncture the container’s floor and damage the forklift.

How to Find Your Forklift’s Net Capacity

When you don’t know the capacity of your forklift, it can be difficult to ensure that you’re meeting workplace guidelines and ensuring the safety of workers on the jobsite. The first place you may find this information is on a small plate attached to the forklift, called a capacity plate.

This plate provides you with information about the forklift’s weight, fuel and load capacity. If you can’t locate the capacity plate, try to find the model of the container. By using that model number in your search engine search, you should be able to find the capacity of your forklift.

Not finding it? Try adding “pdf”, “capacity information” or other related keywords to the end of your search query. Most manufacturers make this information readily available online, so you have somewhere to turn if you happen to misplace your owner’s manual.

A mobile office is transported on the back of a truck.
The same rules that apply to transporting storage containers apply to transporting mobile offices.

What’s The Utility of Transporting Storage Containers

Warehouses that utilize storage containers to house their equipment, tools and inventory regularly transport storage containers both inside and outside of their facilities. These organizations often use forklifts in their daily operations, making it easier to transport containers when needed.

By transporting storage containers on-site, you give your organization more flexibility when it comes to your storage. Because storage containers are weather-resistant, they can provide valuable secure storage space both indoors and outdoors.

Can I Transport Storage Containers Without a Forklift?

It can be difficult for retail and residential container owners to transport their containers without a forklift – loaded or not. In circumstances like this, it might be best to rent a container instead of purchasing one.

When you rent a container from Southwest Mobile Storage, we take care of the delivery, pickup and transportation. Then, you can focus on what matters to you, instead of having to figure out how to transport the container on your own.

Our rentals are pro-rated after the first 28-day billing cycle, which means that you only pay for the days you need.


For maximum safety, using a high-capacity forklift designed for industrial purposes is recommended. Ideally, a forklift with a capacity between 16,000 and 40,000 lbs. would be best. Remember, the heavier the container you plan to move, the higher the capacity your forklift should have.

This easy transport option makes storage containers a great choice for warehouses. You can use forklifts you already have to move containers around the property, giving you more storage flexibility. Plus, since storage containers are weather-resistant, they can be used for storage both indoors and outdoors.

But what about those who don’t have a forklift? In this case, transporting a container, loaded or empty, can be a challenge. In this situation, renting a container with delivery and pickup included might be a smarter option.

Curious about buying or renting a storage container? We’ll help you or your business find the right storage solution for your needs. From standard containers to custom sizing, modified containers and more, we have a wide selection of inventory available. Stop by one of our branch locations to look at our container yard.

Or, contact us and speak with a container sales representative, who can address your questions and provide you with a quote.

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