7 mistakes to avoid in ocean shipping

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By Cate Hull
Ocean freight shipping can be a complex process. Customs regulations from multiple countries, transit times, packaging needs, cargo insurance, unscrupulous freight shippers — the potential pitfalls are daunting.

There are seven mistakes to avoid when shipping via ocean freight. Considering these seven areas will greatly reduce, if not eliminate, negative consequences in the shipping experience.

1. Failing to research customs regulations

Customs rules and regulations vary from country to country, and some jurisdictions add their own unique set of requirements. Navigating these rules and regulations requires careful research.

Failure to know the rules and requirements of shipping to or from a specific country could leave your shipment sitting on a dock or warehouse in a foreign country.

Do your homework to understand the customs rules and regulations, engage a trade consultant to guide you, or let a competent freight forwarder, with expertise in shipping to your target country, take charge of your shipments for you.

2. Miscalculating the Timing

In ocean shipping, timing is everything. Shippers need to carefully calculate shipping durations and cutoff times to meet delivery deadlines. If not, your international supply chain will fail, and customers will abandon you.

Be sure to understand the maximum time your shipment is likely to spend in transit before making any plans or promises that depend on its arrival. While it doesn’t make sense to factor in the possibility of delays in import or export customs clearance, you should at least be familiar with the time needed for transit under normal circumstances.

Also pay attention to the quote expiration date from a traditional or online freight forwarder. If you don’t act while the quote is valid, you will find yourself unable to book your shipment, and might suffer a delay in obtaining a new quote.

The problem is less likely to occur with an online forwarder, as you will probably receive a new quote within moments of requesting it, but if you work with a traditional forwarder, several days may elapse before you receive a new freight quotation.

3. Underestimating Packaging Needs

Packaging requirements and best practices will naturally depend upon the nature of the goods you are shipping, but businesses commonly make the mistake of underestimating the degree to which freight is vulnerable to handling mishaps. In ocean shipping, for instance, containers can shift on the deck of a vessel or even be dropped accidentally at a port.

Diligence over packaging should begin even before you start physically preparing freight for shipping. Try to determine how many times your goods will be handled, including the handling of their shipping container, between the points of origin and destination. The more handling they will undergo, the more robustly you should pack them.

Here are three tips that will help you protect your goods from the rigors of international air and ocean freight shipping.

  • Avoid reusing boxes, as they lose a considerable amount of structural integrity with each use.
  • Seal all the seams of your cartons: not just the top and bottom seams. Your goods may be exposed to wet conditions at some point in the shipping process, and unsealed seams will weaken your cartons, increasing the risk of damage to the contents.
  • Always pack a label inside each box, with the receiver’s address printed on it. That will help to ensure that even if a box is broken or accidentally opened during shipment, its handlers will know where the contents should be sent.

4. Inaccurate shipment weight

Some organizations may not have the proper equipment to weigh cargo, which leads to estimated weights. Carriers have certified scales at their terminals and will re-weigh shipments and tack on a fee to the bill if the original estimate is inaccurate. Re-weighing fees add up quickly, so purchasing a proper scale from the start saves money.

5. Inaccurate freight class

Businesses often search for ways to ship freight at the lowest class possible, because lower classes cost less. Carriers will most likely catch incorrect class designations, resulting in a reclassification fee. Freight class is a large factor in how carriers determine their charges, so they spend a lot of time and effort on reclassing freight to ensure they are getting paid correctly.

6. Overlooking Cargo Insurance Details

In the hustle and bustle of getting a shipment ready, cargo insurance is often overlooked. Make sure you read the fine print on insurance policies and schedules.

For example, insurers may specify that their coverage depends on how certain types of goods are packaged. If your freight falls into such a category, and you’re not aware of the requirements, you might find out too late (after something has happened to your shipment) that the expensive coverage you purchased is worthless and that you’ve no way to recoup the cost of losses or damages to your freight.

7. Going with the cheapest rate available

Perhaps the most common mistake shippers make is going with the lowest price quote without asking qualifying questions.

When choosing a freight forwarder or shipping company, it’s important to consider several factors. How long have they been in business? How responsive are they to you as a customer? How knowledgeable are they about what you’re shipping and the regulations of the country you’re shipping to? Will they know what to do if something goes wrong?

A freight forwarder or shipping company that has not been in business long often lacks the experience and know-how to handle all the details that can complicate international shipping in order to ensure a smooth import or export experience.

Choosing the company with the cheapest freight rates may become much more costly if your shipment gets delayed, held up at customs, lost, or mishandled.

Making the effort to avoid these common ocean shipping mistakes will enhance your bottom line, help you better serve your customers and keep your business afloat.

Cate Hull is the CEO of FreightExchange, a freight and logistics company based in Sydney.