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What Do Shipping Container Labels Mean?

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Shipping container labels provide essential information about the container’s weight, capacity, height, manufacturer and more.

In this blog, we’ll describe how you can identify critical information about your storage box with shipping container labels, and how all parties involved in the use of your shipping container can use that information to make informed decisions when loading and unloading cargo.

Where Can I Identify Shipping Container Labels?

Shipping container labels can be found on the outside of the cargo doors, detailing weight limits and other crucial information in bold lettering.

A closeup of shipping container labels.
Shipping container labels are valuable for those who need to load and move containers, especially when those containers are heavy-laden.

What Information Can I Find on Shipping Container Labels

You can find plenty of helpful information on shipping container labels, from manufacturer information to the weight of the empty container, maximum payload capacity and more.

This information is crucial for the transport of your container, but it can also be useful when using a container for storage. For instance, if you intend to use your container for warehouse storage purposes, it can be helpful to understand the maximum amount of weight that you can put in your container.

Included on shipping container labels are the following categories:

  • Container Number
  • Classification Society Mark
  • Maximum Gross Weight
  • Tare Weight
  • Maximum Payload
  • Capacity
  • Height Warning
  • Manufacturer’s Logo

Let’s dive into these categories and see what information we can use when utilizing shipping containers for freight, storage or modification.

Container Number

The most prominent mark on a shipping container label is the container number. Written in sequences of seven numbers and four letters, the container number provides information in four parts.

It details the owner code, equipment category, serial number and check digit. Here’s an example of a container number, separated into four parts [YAX][U] [200317] [8].

Owner Code

The owner code provides information about the owner of the container. This code (YAX in our example) shows that the container is registered with the BIC. The code is unique to each container and can be used to determine ownership in situations where possession is disputed. Registration with the BIC is dependent on an annual registration fee. More information can be found on the BIC website.

Equipment Category

Next is the single letter that denotes the type of container that you have. Shipping containers used for freight or storage can be identified by the letter U, while Z tells you that the container has trailer attachments. J denotes that the container has detachable equipment, like a power unit.

Serial Number

The serial numbers are chosen by the owner/operator and can help identify containers if they’re misplaced or stolen (200317 in our example).

Check Digit

In addition to the serial number, the check digit is also used to identify containers. It is a solitary number, typically surrounded by a black box that makes it stand out from the rest of the container number sequence (8 in our example).

Classification Society Mark

The classification society mark is a guarantee that the container has been tested for use in cargo shipping. This ensures that the container can meet required strength and seaworthiness requirements. These requirements are set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Shipping containers lined up in a yard, showcasing the shipping container labels emblazoned on the outside of the container doors.
In addition to the container labels, container shippers may include their logo. For instance, these containers were used by Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) before we procured them for storage use. For information about the container’s manufacturer, check the CSC plate.

Maximum Gross Weight

This mark tells you the maximum amount of weight that your container can handle, including the empty container weight as well as the payload. Never place more weight than your container is graded to handle. This can cause property damage and safety hazards to those working with or around the container.

Tare Weight

The tare weight is the empty weight of the container. This is useful in calculating the limits of your container, helping you maintain safety standards.

Maximum Payload

This mark tells you the maximum amount of cargo that can be loaded into the container.


The capacity, or cubic capacity, tells you the interior volume of your container, helping you understand just how much space you have to work with. This is useful when calculating freight costs, or helping you figure out how many containers you need to fulfill your storage needs.

Height Warning

High cube containers, which are a foot taller than standard containers, typically feature reflective tape on the top of the container frame, helping you identify them at a glance.

Manufacturer’s Logo

You can typically locate the manufacturer’s logo, which can be helpful if any of the above information is missing. If you have your container number, you can contact the manufacturer for information about missing details.

Shipping containers stacked on top of each other in a container storage yard. Mobile office containers are stacked on top of them in the background.
When containers are used for international shipping, shipping container labels inform shippers of important information they need to keep in mind, like the nature of contents stored inside. After containers have been decommissioned from freight use, these labels can still be valuable to those that buy and rent containers for storage, telling them how much weight they can handle.


To conclude, shipping container labels are a vital resource for anyone using a shipping container for freight, storage, or modification.

By understanding the information on your container’s label, you can make informed decisions about how to safely and effectively use your container.

From the container number, which can identify the owner and track the container’s location, to the weight limits, which ensure the container is not overloaded, shipping container labels are a key tool for anyone involved in the shipping and storage industry.

Interested in buying or renting a container? At Southwest Mobile Storage we have a wide variety of options to meet your storage needs. Contact us today and request a free quote.

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