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How to Move a Shipping Container Without a Crane

Whether you are looking to hire or buy a container for personal or business storage, or to convert a unit into a construction to use or live in, there are many benefits to using a cargo unit. However, one factor that always needs to be considered is how it is going to get to the site where you want to keep it, and if you are intending on moving it, how you will do this.

When a unit is delivered to the site, it usually comes on the back of a lorry with a crane that can lift it off and place it into the area that the unit is going to sit. This does mean, however, that there needs to be enough space for both the lorry and the box itself.

Invented to be moved easily and carry goods around the world, safely and securely storing their contents, protecting them from the elements, and are made to be moved easily between different modes of transport.

They can be stacked on cargo ships, attached to delivery trains, or put on a lorry to be driven to their destination. However, even when they are empty, they are very heavy. A regular empty 20ft unit, for example, can weigh up to about 2.2 metric tonnes, and an empty 40ft shipping container, up to about 4.2 metric tonnes. This doesn’t make them easy to move unless you have the tools for it, but it DOES make them robust and strong.

Moving a Shipping Container

Before you think about trying to move your unit, it is important that you have considered where it is going to be put. Of course, it needs to be a place that is convenient for its use – whether in a pub garden, on a building site, or even in a nature reserve – but you should also try to find somewhere that is predominantly out of direct sunlight and protected as much as possible from the wind and rain. Although they have been built to withstand the harsh weather at sea, they will last longer the better protected they are.

You will also need to ensure that the land that is going to be used is prepared properly. Anyone who has tried to sit at a chair and table on uneven ground will understand the need for the land to be flat before the unit is placed. You should also ensure that the ground has a solid base – cement, paving slabs or railway sleepers are ideal.

Although most delivery companies will have their own equipment to load, unload, and move the unit, there might be occasions when you are wanting to move it without having access to this equipment. If this is the case, what can you do?

Methods of Moving a Shipping Container

If you don’t have a crane, there are a couple of options of how you can move your unit:


A forklift can move a standard unit, as long as it is the right kind of forklift. Unfortunately, a small, regular-sized forklift will not normally manage this, either damaging itself or the unit by putting pressure on weaker points. If, however, you have a larger and more robust forklift, it may be adequate – but it is important to check the maximum weight that it can manage before you start.

Tilted Bed Trailer

The most effective way to move a container without a crane or forklift is by using a tilted bed trailer. You will need to ensure that there is enough space for it to back up straight into the unit. The process of picking up the container is as follows:

  1. Back the trailer right up to the end of the box and fully tilt the back.
  2. Using strong chains, attach the lower two corners nearest the trailer on the corner castings, to the trailer.
  3. Raise the end of the trailer, raising the attached end of the unit just enough to get some blocks underneath it.
  4. Slide a block of wood or something similar under each of the two raised corners, then lower the trailer to take the strain off the chains and remove them.
  5. Lower the trailer and back up underneath the box until the trailer takes the weight off the blocks, then remove them.
  6. Continue to back the trailer up underneath the box whilst levelling off the trailer.

It is important to remember that with this method, the box will be tilted, meaning that its contents will not be kept level. And make sure that you securely fasten your unit into place before you drive off with it!

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