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Learn More About Open-Top Containers

An open-top shipping container is used for transporting oversized cargo, or cargo that needs to be loaded from the top, such as machinery, vehicles, or construction materials. Read on to learn more about open-top containers and their benefits!


blue and yellow shipping container

The material of an open-top shipping container is made of ridged steel, just like a standard container. It has an open top covered with a tarpaulin, or a heavy-duty removable top. When there is a hard top, the containers have hinges or removable bars where it can be taken off. The bar hinges or is removed when the necessary cargo is loaded or unloaded. A brace that adds to the structural security is in the center of the container, near the top. Lockdown rods can be released on the outside of the container to relieve pressure. This gives way for a forklift to take the hardtop off easily. Once the shipment is loaded in the container, the top can be put back on, and the lockdown rods can be pushed back down and tied off to secure the container and its contents. A soft top uses tarpaulin secured by wire and can easily be removed or rolled back.


Open-top shipping containers come in various sizes, from 20 feet to 40 feet in length, and can have a height of 8.6 feet to 9.6 feet. A 20ft container has a freight limit of 32 cubic meters, and a 40ft has a limit of 64 cubic meters. The payload capacity varies, but it is usually around 60,000 lbs.

Loading and Unloading

Due to the open top, cargo can be loaded aerially using a crane or other lifting equipment. The container can also be loaded or unloaded from the sides with a forklift. The shipment can be secured with straps or chains to prevent it from moving during transport. As mentioned before, the hardtops give access to the container by hinging or removing the bar. There are braces inside and lockdown rods on the outside to increase the security of the goods internally. A soft top has a cover that can be rolled back and a removable hinged header bar that gives access to a forklift. The header bar for soft and hard tops is about 6ft 2 above the floor line. With items over that height, the roof and bar must be removed.

Weather Protection

transport ship carrying white and yellow storage containers

Since soft open-top shipping containers do not have a watertight roof like the hard top, the cargo is exposed to the weather, which is why they usually come with a tarpaulin cover. This will protect the cargo from rain and other harsh elements. It has ribbing at the container's top, allowing water to run off the top. The removable hardtop lids are watertight and have good ventilation in the four corners.

Specialized Cargo

Open-top shipping containers are used for specialized cargo that requires top-loading, such as heavy machinery, vehicles, and building materials like steel beams or pipes. Any bulky and oversized goods are typically put in these types of containers.


Like standard shipping containers, open-top shipping containers can be customized with features like doors, windows, insulation, and ventilation. You can purchase a larger tarpaulin with the soft top containers if your cargo does not fit in the standard-sized one. You can swap out the covering completely for large loads and use canvas or plastic sheets instead of tarpaulin.


Open-top shipping containers can be transported by road, rail, or sea, but it's essential to ensure that the cargo is adequately secured to prevent damage during transport.


The cost of an open-top shipping container can vary depending on the size, condition, and location. It is more expensive than a regular container because of specific construction requirements that make it more costly. Prices for a used container start at around $2,000, while new containers can cost over $5,000. Container and transportation fees will cost more if the cargo exceeds the height of the roof.

Open-top shipping containers are a versatile and practical option for transporting oversized or specialized cargo. They provide a cost-effective way to transport cargo that would be too large for a standard shipping container. Contact us at Northstar Transport Services to learn more about us and how we can bring value to your supply chain process.

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