What Do Less than Container Load (LCL) And Full Container Load (FCL) Mean In Shipping Terms?

September 13 , 2021 | CATEGORY : SERVICES

Shipping is the most commonly used mode of transport for export and import trades. Ocean freight has several advantages – ships can carry large volumes over long distances, at relatively stable conditions. When choosing to ship cargo, common terms you may come across are FCL (full container load) and LCL (less than container load).

FCL refers to a full container load, where the shipment or cargo requires the full space of the container. In this case, the complete cargo of the container is owned by the shipper, and the container space is not shared by any other cargo.

The term LCL means less than container load. It refers to situations when the cargo has small volumes or dimensions that will not take up the entire space of a container. In this case, the shipper can opt for LCL, which combines their shipment with other smaller cargoes. This is also called a consolidated container, where multiple smaller cargoes are combined to be shipped together in the same container.  

Types of containers

Irrespective of whether you are choosing FCL or HCL, there are different types of containers available. Containers are designed for specific needs of various types of cargo, depending on their dimensions, weight, and nature of goods.

  • Flat rack containers – these have walls only on the short end of the container, and are useful for large cargo like machinery, lumber, and large vehicles. Sometimes the walls are collapsible, making them easy to store
  • Standard dry containers – these are standard box containers, which keep cargo dry. Incidentally these can also be used to transport material over road or rail
  • Tank containers – a tank container is suitable for bulk transportation of liquids, gases and powders
  • Refrigerated containers – these are used to transport perishable goods that require temperature regulation

How to choose between FCL (full container load) and LCL (less than container load) for your shipping needs?

Depending on your cargo and other critical business parameters, you can choose a suitable shipping method. Your freight forwarder can also help with the right guidance. Some of the parameters that you may evaluate in making a decision between FCL and LCL are:


  • Cargo volume

Cargo volume refers to the size and volume of the shipment, which is usually the main deciding factor for choosing your shipment mode. This is usually measured in cubic meters. If the shipment is between 2 and 13m3 then LCL shipping is a favorable option. Shipments of volume less than 2m3 may also be shipped with LCL under certain circumstances. If your shipment size is more than 13m3 then FCL method of shipping may be more suitable.


  • Security and safety

The main priority for companies is to make sure the shipment is secured and will be protected from damages while in transit. For high-risk shipments that may be damaged by consolidating them with other cargoes, an FCL container is a good choice. Using the container exclusively for your own cargo from the start of transit to destination ensures better control over loading, cargo conditions and unloading. It also removes the risk of contamination from other cargo.


  • Shipping cost

Cost is a major deciding factor when it comes to shipping. Depending on the cargo, time constraints, volumes and special conditions required, it could be advisable to use FCL instead of LCL or vice versa. It’s always advisable to check the rates for both, against the specific needs you have such as business timelines, cost of transportation per piece, and nature of cargo before choosing the container type.


  • Speed of delivery

LCL shipments take longer than FCL shipments in terms of speed of delivery. As LCL shipments are combined with other shipments, it takes more time to plan such loads. It also takes more time to go through the customs checks at different ports as several cargoes are to be inspected.


  • Customization

When customization is required, FCL has an upper hand. As the entire container is reserved for your cargo, the conditions can be customized.


Which is better – FCL (full container load) or LCL (less than container load)?

There is no answer to the question of whether FCL or LCL is better, as the choice depends on the needs of the shipper and the cargo. Companies can choose either FCL or LCL or a combination of both, based on their business needs and cargo handling requirements. Understanding HCL and LCL can bring awareness of how each shipping method works, and help shippers to decide what is best for them, in their budget.

Freight forwarding services have extensive experience in handing different types of cargo, the dependencies of time and cost, as well as regulatory compliances needed for shipping. For those shipping cargo for the first time, the best thing to do is discuss your needs with the freight forwarder, who can offer their advice and guide you with the right choices.