Logistics Know How

Understanding LCL and FCL sea freight

Twill's simple vision is to break down the barriers in logistics and make shipping simple, particularly for SMEs.To better help you understand the ins and outs of shipping, we want to explain the differences between LCL and FCL sea freight. 

28 January 2021

If you’re reading this, you may already have a slight understanding of what ocean freight means. In short, it’sthe method of transporting often large loads of goods by sea.  

Over 90% of all the world’s trade is carried by sea – and even more in some countries. As a general rule, shipments weighing more than 100kg – or consisting of multiple cartons – will be sent by sea freight. Some further restrictions apply to certain goods from country to country, but most items are allowed. 

When you choose ocean shipping, you’ll likely encounter LCL and FCL freight. These are the two main options when shipping cargo across the ocean. Let’s delve into each one a little more below. 

Do you want to transport your cargo overseas?  Get started with Twill. 

What is LCL sea freight? 

LCL sea freight (or LCL ocean freight) stands for Less than Container Load sea freight. When choosing this option, you’ll only be using a fraction of a shipping container’s capacity. The remaining space within that container will be filled by goods belonging to other people or businesses.  

LCL ocean freight is a good shipping option if you’re transporting small volumes of cargo across seas and want to consolidate the ocean freight cost by sharing the container.  

What is FCL sea freight? 

FCL sea freight (or FCL ocean freight) stands for Full Container Load sea freight. As the name suggests, this option means you’ll be using, and paying for, the entire container so that only your cargo occupies the space.  

FCL ocean freight is a good option if you know you have enough cargo to fill an entire shipping container. The size of the shipping containerwill also determine if this is the right option for you. For instance, you might be able to fill a 20-foot shipping container but not a 40-foot one. Many businesses also opt for FCL sea freight if they can almost fill a container making the difference in cost barely noticeable.  

Some key considerations when choosing between FCL and LCL sea freight 

With that said, you shouldn’t just choose LCL or FCL freight based on the cost or size of your shipment.Whether you opt for FCL or LCL sea freight will impact many elements of the ocean shipping service. Here are some important considerations you should remember when deciding:  

1. Security 

Many businesses opt for FCL sea freight for the extra security and peace of mind that comes with having your cargo stored securely within its own container. Although the risk of damage, theft or loss is very low when transporting your goods with an experienced ocean shipping provider, LCL freight will experience more handling than LCL.  

2. Speed 

If you’re sharing a container with multiple shipments from different businesses, you may need to account for extra days for processing. The time it takes to unload, load and separate goods in LCL freight can be significantly longer than when you opt for FCL freight. You may also have to wait for other goods to arrive before your container can be loaded if you choose LCL ocean freight.   

3. Flexibility 

If you need to divide your shipments to be sent to different final destinations, LCL sea freight offers far more flexibility than FCL. It allows you to split your cargo into smaller increments across multiple shared shipping containers, reducing the cost of entire containers and additional warehousing, unloading and sorting when the shipment arrives at port. 

For instance, if you’re transporting goods to the USA, you could use LCL sea freight to sort your cargo into containers for specific cities. This way you save on time and money not having to do this at the first port.  

4. Cost 

FCL freight doesn’t always cost more, as LCL freight can often be charged per cubic metre (CBM). It’s important to weigh up the costs. Depending on how much space your shipment needs, and the cost per CBM, it might be better to pay for an entire shipping container even if you don’t need all the space.  

5. Availability 

Sometimes, businesses will opt for LCL freight shippingdue to the greater availability of these containers. FCL freight containers are often in higher demand during rush periods, particularly before long holidays like Chinese New Year. At times like these, it might be faster for you to ship using LCL freight.  

6. Volume 

The volume of your shipment will be one of the main determining factors of whether you choose FCL or LCL freight shipping. Your best option may be LCL if your cargo ranges from 1 to 9 CBM. If your shipment totals 10 CBM or more, FCL will likely be the most cost-effective option. However, consider the other factors already mentioned above before deciding.  

Is LCL or FCL sea freight better for SMEs? 

When it comes to small and medium-size enterprises, LCL sea freight is often considered the ideal option for shipping goods overseas. The flexible pricing, greater availability and flexibility around shipping to multiple locations often appeals to smaller businesses and start-ups. It’s ultimately a lower-cost option for lower-volume shipments.  

However, as your business grows, or if you have large quantities of cargo shipping to certain destinations, it’s important to remember the option of FCL sea freight. 

If it can travel by sea, why not air?

Where once we used to take ferries and cruises to go on holiday – now we fly. Why is it not the same for cargo?

Well, there are a few reasons – largely to do with capacity and cost. While air freight is often faster and a bit more reliable (as you’re not at the mercy of the sea!) it’s also more expensive – sometimes four or five times more expensive.

Ocean freight takes more time, but it’s far cheaper and there are fewer restrictions on shipping hazardous cargo. On top of that, there’s much greater capacity for the price you pay. One container can hold 10,000 beer bottles for example!

Ultimately, you want to pick the best route for your cargo – and when it comesocean shipping, we can help. When you sign up to our intuitive digital logistics platform, you have access to instant pricing and detailed tracking for ocean freight services to more than 300 locations in over 150 countries. At Twill, we can help get you on the right route and ensure your cargo reaches you, or you customers, as efficiently as possible. 

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