Here’s what you need to know about sea freight shipping options in order to make the best possible choice for your business.

When it comes to international ocean freight, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Every company’s needs and circumstances are different, each requiring a unique approach in order to achieve an optimal outcome. In general, the best option for you will depend on what it is you’re sending, the size of your cargo, and its final destination. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most common either/or scenarios that companies encounter when developing an international shipping program.


Most international shipping contracts simplify the sea freight process by using Incoterms, a set of universally recognized phrases and concepts employed in international trade agreements. By stating each party’s obligation in a shared language, Incoterms help buyers and sellers in different countries better understand their specific obligations in a given agreement, reducing the likelihood of delays or disputes. Incoterms are standardized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) — you can acquire additional information and guidance here.

While Incoterms have been in use since 1936, they have been updated over time to conform with evolving trade practices and international policies. For this reason, it’s always important to specify which version of Incoterms are actually being employed in a contract to avoid any possible confusion — for example, Incoterms 2010 (the latest version). The next update is currently slated for 2020.

Prepaid or Collect Shipping?

In a prepaid shipment, all of the expenses are covered by the shipper. It’s the opposite of a collect shipment, in which expenses are covered by the recipient. Depending on the nature of your relationship and any costs levied by the port of arrival, prepaid shipping might be more advisable. Regardless, neither option is more expensive than the other — the terms simply relate to who is on the hook for the bill.


The final rate of an ocean freight shipment largely depends on whether it requires an entire container. Any load that can fill one or more containers is classified as a full container load, or FCL; any load that is smaller than one container is classified as a less than container load, or LCL.

FCL typically charges a flat, per container rate, making it an ideal choice for companies shipping heavy or bulk items, or large quantities of goods. LCL charges based on volume per cubic meter, which is typically a more cost-effective option for shipments that don’t require a full container, or that are being split between multiple destinations. It’s also important to remember that LCL shipments need to consolidated at their point of origin and then deconsolidated once they reach their destination, making FCL the faster option, generally.

Short Sea or Deep Sea Shipping?

As their names might suggest, short sea shipping moves through shallower, coastal waters, while deep sea shipping moves through transoceanic routes. If you’re operating in the United States, shipments to Europe, Asia, Australia, etc., of course, are deep sea, while shipments within North America are short sea. Because of the shorter distances involved, short sea shipping is considerably cheaper than its deep sea counterpart, but compared to other shipping methods, both are relatively affordable options.

The Primary Freight Difference

Whether you’re sending industrial equipment from Boston to Dubai or marble from Milan to New York, Primary Freight’s dedicated team has the requisite knowledge and expertise to help guide you through the process of optimizing your shipping program. With nearly two decades of experience in international and domestic sea freight logistics, we’re confident in our abilities to ensure the smoothest possible sailing for you and your cargo.

If you’re interested in learning more about our sea freight shipping services, or what makes Primary Freight stand apart from our competitors, give one of our dedicated professionals a call at (800)-635-0013.