How to Track Containers: A Comprehensive Guide | DCSA

4 Min read | November 1, 2023
Container tracking is a pivotal element in the modernisation of the shipping process. Visibility into container status enables supply chain partners to make informed decisions, take action in the face of delays and keep track of high-value shipments. Knowing how to track a container digitally helps optimise the entire supply chain, a process made even smoother by digital standards which support data exchange between all supply chain stakeholders, regardless of which platforms they use. Container Tracking Essentials: Mastering the Basics

How to track a shipping container?

 To track a shipping container digitally you need to know its identifier and have access to a tracking solution which may be through a website. You will need one of three unique identifiers to track a container:
  • Container number – this identifier contains letters and numbers, like a number plate
  • Bill of lading (B/L)  -  this document functions as an agreement, receipt, document of title and record of terms and conditions. It has a unique number that can be used for tracking
  •  Booking number – this is generated by the shipping company to identify a shipment.
With this information, you can track a container through the relevant shipping line or 3PL/freight forwarder’s website. Alternatively, you can use a dedicated online container tracking website. You can also invest in supply chain and other management software solutions to receive information directly via application programming interface (API) integration. 

What are the benefits of tracking shipping containers?

 Global trade operates within fine margins. Consumers expect shelves to stay stocked and the right goods to be available seasonally and as fashions change. Yet, supply chains are complex. You need high-quality, timely information to know where your cargo is and when it will arrive, so you can plan other aspects of the supply chain. Tracking a shipping container delivers many benefits:
  • Informed decision-making: On-demand access to real-time cargo data equips you to make the right decision at the right time
  • Supply chain visibility: Resilient supply chains must be visible supply chains. You need visibility into shipment locations to manage disruption or unforeseen changes.
  • Better customer experience: You can keep your customers informed when you know where goods are so that they can manage their demands. If you know cargo is delayed, you can make alternative arrangements so that you don’t let customers down.
  • Exception handling: You can take action more rapidly to minimise supply chain disruption when you know cargo is going to be delayed.
  • Security: Containers often transport high-value goods such as electronics, cars and other items at risk of theft. When you can track your cargo, you know it is where it should be and can spot any signs of problems.
  • Communication: The end-to-end supply chain only operates efficiently when all stakeholders communicate. Sharing tracking information helps all parties manage their part of the supply chain to keep cargo moving.
Container Tracking: A Unified Approach with DCSA Standards The ability to track containers is fundamental to ensuring timely deliveries, minimising lost cargo and optimising the entire supply chain.However, there is another element that contributes to tracking capabilities. The status of shipments must be shared and updated across many organisations and they don’t necessarily use the same systems or platforms.   Although data might be available, if it isn’t aligned or standardised it cannot necessarily pass seamlessly from one link in the chain to another.This is where digital standards come in. Harmonising data, in terms of terminology, processes and definitions overcomes communication blockages. Then, cargo information can travel unhindered for improved visibility, informed decision-making and a better customer experience.DCSA collaborates with carriers, shippers, associations and other stakeholders to establish a foundation for this seamless, end-to-end information exchange for container shipping. DCSA’s digital standards enable a common technology foundation so container shipping services can be resilient, flexible, efficient, reliable and more sustainable. Making Tracking Simple: Track & Trace Standards DCSA’s track & trace (T&T) standards support all identified events when data is exchanged across five general shipment phases
  • Pre-shipment
  • Pre-ocean
  • Ocean
  • Post-ocean
  • Post shipment
 And presents the key events and milestones across three journeys:
  • Shipment: Document related events and milestones
  • Equipment: Container specific events and milestones
  • Transport: Transport mode related events and milestones
 They comprise a set of documents, including the DCSA Information Model, T&T Data Interface, DCSA-to-UN/CEFACT Data Mapping and associated Reading Guides. T&T is platform agnostic so you and the organisations you communicate with can use whichever supply chain solutions you choose and exchange information interoperably. How to Track Containers: Enhancing Efficiency with DCSA Standards Container tracking online, as part of the wider transformation of container shipping, helps stakeholders increase operational efficiency and benefit from better user experiences. Knowing how to track a container ship with Track & trace, along with other digital standards, helps smooth the way for effective data exchange, provided supply chain partners work together. You can help by:
  • Advocating for DCSA’s digital standards: Digital shipping standards establish common definitions and frameworks for digitalising data and common protocols for communicating it. Track and trace supports container tracking online; there are other standards for other container shipping processes.
  • Collaborating: Discuss adopting digital standards with your customers, suppliers and partners to drive progress in the digitalisation of our industry.
  • Discovering more: Explore container shipping digitalisation through our resources page and range of e-books on topics such as the future of container shipping and how creating visibility improves data reliability.
 Get in touch: contact us with your questions