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How to Ensure Accurate ETAs for Ocean Containers

December 8, 2023

Shipping goods by ocean container is a cost-effective way to ship bulk loads of cargo, but it can be an expensive endeavor if you must wait for your shipment. The arrival of an ocean container typically takes anywhere from three weeks to several months to arrive at their destination depending on the distance traveled and additional modes of transportation used, especially during uncertain global markets. 

But there are also additional factors to consider. According to Hari Menon of Maritime Insight, "The supplier has to have the goods ready as agreed with the buyer and transporter. However, there may be delays from the supplier’s end in readying the goods.

Production bottlenecks, issues with packing and labeling, or incomplete export formalities and documentation can cause delays.

Unexpected delays from the supplier’s side may result in the cargo missing its sailing. If it is a transshipment cargo, there is a highly likely chance of it missing all the subsequent sailings from the other ports.

Sometimes a purchase order may consist of different goods from diverse sources that may have to be consolidated by the supplier. Delay in consolidation can upset the delivery deadline that has been agreed with the transporter." 

If you’re not careful, this period might make it impossible for your business to get the product in time for its next big sale or event. That's especially true given the state of domestic port activity in 2022. You must plan when ordering goods shipped via ocean containers to know how long before they arrive and avoid any potential delays. Here are a few steps shippers need to take to ensure accurate ETAs.

1. Calculate the Estimated Time of Arrival for Your Shipment Based on Real-Time Data

A few factors will influence the estimated time of arrival for an ocean shipment. The distance that the ocean container needs to travel is obviously a significant factor, as is the mode of transportation used to transport goods to the port (for example, rail, air or truck). The type of cargo can also play a role in how long it takes for the ocean container to arrive.

For example, goods that require refrigeration or special handling will take longer to deliver than those that do not. Finally, inclement weather or other unforeseen delays can also cause delays in the delivery of an ocean container.

Real-time data is vital for tracking the location of ocean containers in transit because it allows businesses to anticipate potential delays and make necessary arrangements. 

For example, if a company knows that an ocean container will be delayed by a week due to inclement weather, it can lease a truck to transport the goods to their destination. Ultimately, the lack of real-time data and visibility leads to problems in managing ocean freight. Businesses can save money and ensure that their goods arrive on time using real-time data.

2. Communicate With Your Supplier to Ensure That They Are Aware of Your ETA Needs

Effective communication between shippers and suppliers is essential for ensuring that goods ship on time. A lack of communication can lead to delays in shipping, which can be costly for both businesses. Avoiding these problems starts with establishing a system of communication that works for both parties. 

Shipper-supplier communication is important for ensuring timely shipments; it can also help to improve the relationship between the two businesses. This level of communication also gives rise to better forecasting capabilities. As further reported by Menon:

"The two main types of [ocean freight] forecasting are quantitative forecasting and qualitative forecasting. Quantitative forecasting makes use of historical data to calculate future demands, while qualitative forecasting makes use of judgment based on past or recurring events.

In qualitative forecasting, numerical data is not used for working out future demands, and it relies heavily on experienced and knowledgeable company staff or forecasters."

Effective shipper-supplier communication can help to prevent misunderstandings and miscommunications from occurring. By working together, shippers can ensure their suppliers have cargo ready to move onto a ship or in drayage prior to shipping.

There's also the benefit of automated notifications for ocean shipments that can help improve responsiveness to the forecast. 

Consider this: If the forecast shifts toward a longer lead time, shippers can use that information to send automated notifications to partnering over-the-road drivers. In the case of a delayed ocean shipment,  businesses should quickly notify their drayage service providers so that they can make necessary arrangements. Automated notifications can help improve responsiveness to the forecast and prevent any potential delays.

3. Use a Freight Forwarder to Help Manage and Monitor Your Shipment

Freight forwarding in ocean shipping refers to organizing the shipment of goods by sea. Freight forwarders collaborate with shippers and suppliers to ensure that goods ship on time and that communication between the two businesses remains open. In addition, freight forwarders can help manage and monitor shipments, which aids in preventing delays.

Shippers need to stay updated on the activities of their freight forwarders. By keeping track of what their freight forwarders are doing, shippers can ensure that their cargo leaves on time and that communication between the two businesses remains open. In addition, by staying updated on their freight forwarder's activities, shippers can avoid potential delays.

Excellent communication between shippers and freight forwarders is essential for ensuring timely shipments. By working together, both businesses can make sure that all necessary arrangements are in place for a smooth shipping process. 

Working with a freight forwarder also alleviates much of the hassle of managing ocean freight. Remember that freight forwarders are experts in aligning resources to find capacity in tight markets. That means forwarders may have the upper hand in planning drayage, negotiating rates with carriers, and reducing the risk of rolled cargo at the time of loading. A forwarder can help you get the ocean freight out the door faster.

In summary, it is crucial to use real-time data when tracking ocean shipments because it allows businesses to make necessary arrangements and plan for potential delays. It's also essential that shippers communicate with their suppliers to improve business relationships and prevent misunderstandings from occurring. Finally, using a freight forwarder can help to reduce hassle and ensure timely shipments.

5. Stay Up-To-Date on Current Port Conditions That Could Affect Your Shipment

The future of port congestion in the United States is difficult to predict. However, a few factors could lead to increased congestion at ports in 2022. All indications point to the continued growth of e-commerce, which will lead to an increased demand for cargo space at ports. In addition, the U.S. trade war with China most likely will continue, which could lead to delays in the delivery of goods. Finally, delays in the development of new ports and infrastructure projects could create more bottlenecks at existing ports.

These factors could lead to increased congestion at ports in the United States in 2022. Shippers should stay up-to-date on current port conditions so that they can anticipate potential delays and make plans to mitigate them accordingly.

Simultaneously, shippers need to stay apprised of new developments affecting individual ports. 

For example, the Port of Savannah, operating under the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), is undergoing massive upgrades that will expand capacity. According to a GPA press release, "Expansion efforts include the Peak Capacity project, which will add 650,000 TEUs of annual ocean container yard capacity in two phases at Garden City Terminal, with the first phase opening in five months. Another main component of the expansion plan is the development of 92 acres GPA purchased last year adjacent to the Mason Mega Rail Terminal. Housing approximately 40 rubber-tired gantry cranes and adding 750,000 TEUs of annual capacity, the development will be commissioned within two years."

The Port of Savannah is also one of the busiest ports in the United States, and it is currently expanding to meet the increasing demand for cargo space. In addition to the new ocean container warehousing space, the port is also expanding its rail and trucking infrastructure to accommodate increased traffic.

Still, many industry experts predict the Port of Savannah will be one of the most congested ports in the United States through 2022, especially as spillover from the South Pedro Bay Complex ports results in more freight going through the East Coast.

Remember that the South Pedro Bay Complex has seen some of the most significant port activity levels in decades. The Port of Long Beach is one of the busiest ports in the United States, but it has struggled to keep up with the increasing demand for cargo space. The port has dealt with a backlog of ships since late 2018, which has led to increased congestion at other ports on the East Coast.

Shippers can expect delays at the Port of Long Beach throughout 2022. Staying current regarding port conditions in the coming months will help shippers anticipate potential delays and make plans to manage them accordingly. In addition, shippers should consider shipping through East Coast ports to avoid congestion at the Port of Long Beach.

6. Strive for Continual Improvement in Your Shipping Process

A business can reduce the risk of delays by continuously improving its shipping process, which allows them to anticipate potential problems and solve them before they occur. By seeking out ways to improve its operations, a company can ensure that it is always ready to manage unexpected obstacles that could lead to delays.

There are many benefits associated with continuous improvement in the shipping industry. One benefit is an improved customer experience; customers who receive their goods on time through improved processes will be satisfied, which will lead to repeat sales and referrals. Reduced operating costs are another benefit; if a company anticipates potential future problems, it can search for more cost-effective ways of doing things and eliminating those risks. 

7. Rely on Data When Choosing an Ocean Carrier

When it comes to shipping goods by ocean container, it’s important to have accurate metrics to know which export/import locations are the best and which ocean carriers are best suited for each shipment. Without this data, companies can run into unexpected delays and increased shipping costs.

Accurate metrics can help companies save money in many ways, including:

  1. They can help companies identify under-utilized ports and switch to those ports to save on shipping costs.
  2. They can help companies select the most cost-effective ocean carrier for each shipment.
  3. They can help companies optimize their supply chains by identifying inefficiencies and making changes accordingly. 

Every shipping company functions differently, has different services to offer, and charges differently. To ensure that you pick the best company for your needs, here are a few questions to ask when choosing an ocean shipping company:

1. What are the rates? 

The company should have a clear and transparent pricing policy, one that you can explain to your clients.

2. What are the payment options? 

If possible, choose a company with flexible payment options so if something changes in your shipment or their planning, you can easily accommodate this change in the plan without problems.

3. What's their customer service reputation?

As the client, you should feel safe and comfortable working with the shipping company. Look for a company that offers a committed support team to build a working relationship with your business and ensure that issues are dealt with quickly and efficiently to avoid disrupting your daily activities.

4. Can I use my own ocean containers? 

This will depend on the carrier you choose, but many carriers offer an option to collect ocean containers.

2. Do they have restrictions on what can be shipped? 

Some companies only allow certain types of freight to be moved together within the same ocean container. For instance, some companies may be better suited for moving live animals in tandem with suppliers, while other forms of freight, like office supplies, can be paired with oversized, bulky furniture

7. Prepare for Your Shipment’s Arrival

To ensure that your shipment arrives on time, there are a few things you can do to prepare beyond simply staying informed of the market. 

Ensure Your Ocean Shipment Documentation Is Complete and Accurate

When shipping goods by ocean container, your documentation must be complete and accurate. This includes the bill of lading, commercial invoice, and packing list. Having precise documentation will help to ensure that your shipment arrives on time and without any delays.

 Shippers must meet all customs and regulatory requirements.

In addition, it's important to have a solid plan in place for getting your goods from the port to their destination. This often involves coordination with a freight forwarder or transportation company. By planning and ensuring that all the necessary paperwork is in order, you can minimize the chances of your shipment arriving late.

Confirm You Have the Right Ocean Container and Equipment

Next, you must have a sturdy ocean container to hold all your goods. If you started purchasing items soon after placing the order, some companies might try to provide an ocean container for you so long as there is enough time before your shipment arrives. In this case, consider what other materials you will also need to send with your cargo and make sure those are ready ahead of time as well.

When it comes to unloading an ocean container, some specialized equipment is needed. This includes an ocean container spreader beam to distribute the weight of the ocean container evenly during unloading. Another piece of equipment frequently  used is an ocean container handler, which can help move the ocean container around more easily. 

Know the International Regulations Affecting Each Import

Over 100 countries worldwide have regulations regarding what shipments can cross their borders. These regulations vary widely between regions and change often depending on recent events or associations that cause new rules to come into effect temporarily or permanently. Therefore, it is essential to know the country-specific regulations in place for your destination. 

Different terminology may also affect when shippers will take control and liability for freight. 

These are known as Incoterms, and they're an international set of terms that help shippers understand this liability. The ocean-specific terms include:

  • FAS – Free Alongside Ship: The goods must be delivered "free" of charge to the buyer and "alongside" the ship transporting them.
  • FOB – Free on Board:  This term is typically used when the buyer has arranged for their own transportation and is responsible for picking up the goods from the carrier, according toUSA Customs Once they are on board, the buyer is responsible for overseeing all costs and risks associated with transporting the cargo to its final destination.
  • CFR – Cost and Freight: When using CFR, the shipper is responsible for delivering the goods to the port of shipment and paying all costs associated with getting the goods to that point. The freight forwarder is then responsible for transporting the goods from the port to the destination. This arrangement helps to ensure that both parties are aware of their responsibilities and liabilities.
  • CIF – Cost Insurance and Freight: This term usually includes the cost of the freight, insurance, and any other associated fees up to the destination port. It’s important to be aware of this term when budgeting for your shipment, as it can be more expensive than other options.

Each destination or governing body also has its own customs documentation and tax rules that must be satisfied before shipping goods within their borders.

It is important to note that some companies are authorized by certain countries, meaning they can ship specific types of freight on behalf of that country's government. If this is the case, then it will be up to each company to determine what goods they can ship into that nation. Knowing this ahead of time means you can plan accordingly before sending off your shipment.

Summary: The Right Strategy for Better Ocean container ETAs Starts With the Right Partnership

Managing ocean freight can be a nightmare for shippers. Between the different regulations and terminology, it can be hard to track the requirements for each destination. And if something goes wrong with the shipment, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible. 

Therefore it is important to partner with a company that has a lot of experience shipping goods by ocean container. They will be able to help you navigate the complicated process and make sure your shipment arrives on time and without any problems.

Furthermore, collaborating with an expert partner to source ocean freight data can go a long way toward reducing the stress of finding equipment, accounting for sailing schedule fluctuations, and planning inland drayage. Fortunately, OpenTrack makes that easier and more efficient than ever with integrated systems and a robust, seamless solution to ocean freight visibility. 

OpenTrack integrated systems make it easy to get real-time updates on your shipment, letting you can plan with confidence. With our solution, you'll have everything you need to keep your business running smoothly, avoiding the risk of stock-outs and better able to respond to market fluctuations. Connect with OpenTrack to get started today. 

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