Lift Trucks

Forklift trucks and reach stackers are manually operated industrial equipment used to efficiently handle intermodal shipping containers. They are typically used in small to medium port terminal, and other smaller non-port yards.

Forklift trucks are also known as container handlers. They can be further classed as empty and laden container handlers.

These types of equipment are being replaced in large port terminals by automated Stacking Cranes, particularly where wages are higher.

Both however offer various benefits. In many cases, reach stackers offer higher storage density that forklifts, but increased storage density can affect the accessibility of containers, which can result in extra handling and reduced throughput.

Major vendors of lift trucks include:

Images © CVS Ferrari, Hyster and Konecranes


Reachstackers are capable of higher storage density.

  • Forklifts may stack up to 5 or 6 containers high, but only 1 row deep.
  • Reachstackers may stack up to 4 high in the 3rd row and 5 high in the first two rows. Normal practice is a 'pyramid' shape, stacking 4 high in the second row and 3 high in the first.


Accessibilty has a major effect on the speed of the container handling operation. The aim is to reduce "dead picks" - shifting containers to access containers underneath or behind.

Forklifts provide better accessibility than reachstackers.

Capacity and Load Centre

Lift truck capacity designates their operational capability. Selecting reach stackers with sufficient 2nd and 3rd row lifting capacity is vital.


Both container handlers and reach stackers typically operate in 15m wide aisles, stacking a mix of 20' and 40' loaded containers. However where additional capacity is required to stack heavier containers or higher in the second row or third row, a standard reach stacker may not offer sufficient lifting capacity. In this case, a larger machine will be needed that may be up to 9m in length (as opposed to 8m), increasing the aisle width requirement.