Container Tracking

Have you ever wondered how shipping container tracking actually works? Or, maybe you just want to learn more about the intermodal container industry and the equipment and technology used? Well, this site is here to tell you. Keep reading, or jump straight into our reference section for details.


Shipping containers are used to store and transport raw materials and products efficiently and securely around the world. There are about 17 million intermodal containers in the world, of varying types to suit different cargo. "Intermodal" indicates that the container can be used across various modes of transport without unloading and reloading.

More than 200 countries have ports open to container ships. In 2011, containers handled by all ports world-wide were estimated at more than 580 million TEU.

Considering the scale of the industry an international system for identification and tracking of shipping containers is crucial.

Container Ship

ISO 6346

The ISO 6346 international standard specifies a unique 11 digit shipping container number which is required for container tracking. It is this container number that is used to record handling and progress along a supply chain.

ISO 6346 container number


Every shipping container is handled multiple times during its journey, and many types of equipment are used to handle containers. This depends on the location, operational requirements and desired degree of automation.

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Tracking events record this handling, capturing:

  • When the container was handled
  • Where the container was handled
  • Why the container was handled
Straddle Carrier

Automated Identification

Automated identification is the key to data accuracy and operational efficiency. Systems that can automatically capture the shipping container number are becoming more and more widespread.

Automated Identification and Data Collection (AIDC) systems provide a rich data source.

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Data Events

There are numerous reasons why a container data event is captured. Here are the most common ones:

  • Loading and unloading of LCL (Less-than-Container-Load) cargo into and out of containers
  • Loading and unloading of containers onto trucks, trains and ships
  • Gate arrival and departure at container terminals and other locations
  • Hire and de-hire of empty containers at container parks
  • Storage of containers at containers parks
  • Recording related security information such as seals
  • Recording temperature data in refrigerated containers


Container tracking events are invaluable for customer enquiries. But the full range of container data events can be used for many analytical purposes, such as:

  • Minimizing handling in terminals and elsewhere
  • Supply chain monitoring and optimisation
  • Determining Delivered in Full on Time (DIFOT) performance
  • Determining equipment utilisation
  • Compiling Key Performance Indicator (KPI) data