Locking a Shipping Container for Export

Locking a Shipping Container for Export

Explanation as to why shipping container bolt seals are used instead of padlocks.

We are often asked to provide padlocks for locking shipping containers that are being used for exporting goods. However, you don’t need a padlock fitted to your container when exporting goods (and as explained later you should not really use one). The standard method to provide visible and effective security for shipping containers exports is through the use of bolt seals.

Shipping container bolt seals are a cheap yet effective method in providing security for your cargo. Each bolt seal has its own unique reference number and once you’ve loaded your cargo for export, you fit the bolt seal and note down the number printed on the seal (or your freight forwarder will do this for you).

At every stage of your container’s journey, the unique number of the bolt seal is recorded by every one that handles the container from all the transport companies, terminals and shipping lines. In theory, therefore, if your container has been broken in to, it is relatively easy to trace back where the seal was broken.

Please note that shipping container bolt seals are very much the industry standard and are essential for any exports going to or through the USA.


So, why not use padlocks instead? Simply put, should customs wish to examine the cargo in your container, they will cut off the padlocks using bolt cutters. Thereafter, they will apply one of their bolt seals and you have lost a perfectly good padlock.

In fact, having padlocks fitted might also look rather odd and attract more attention to your container than those secured using bolt seals. A padlock on your container may increase the chances of checks and, as you may not be aware, in most cases all charges for additional customs checks are passed onto the exporter or shipper i.e. you.

If anyone was intent on breaking in to your container a padlock will not deter them. Furthermore, if your insurer insists on using a padlock, the our advice would be to find another insurer who deals specifically with export freight in shipping containers. They will know that bolt seals are the norm within the industry.

Although padlocks are not the norm for export use, padlocks are great for securing containers used for on-site storage. Of course, padlocks are still vulnerable and should be used in conjunction with a padlock housing (or lock box) and, if you are very concerned about security, take a look at our shipping container alarms. These are mains or battery operated devices that upon activation, send a text message to one of more mobile phones as well as an audible sound.

Export insurance for shipping containers

Whilst theft from containers is relatively rare, you should always consider insuring your goods. Cargo insurance is relatively cheap but it is not normally included as standard. So, if you are shipping expensive items or the entire contents of your home, we really do recommend you take out insurance and, in our experience, its often best to avoid the cheapest insurance deals out there. Its cheap for a reason and may not cover all the options you require. Cheaper cargo insurance is often termed as ‘total loss insurance’, in this specific case you are only insured if your entire shipment goes missing. If your boat sinks en route to destination, but they recover 1 item from your shipment thy can attribute to you (quite possibly floating in the water) – then you will not receive any pay out from this insurance policy whatsoever. If shipping your own goods around the world a good quality insurance policy is well worth a little extra outlay.

If you have any questions about this article, our products or service please call our friendly team for free on 0800 999 8988 any time 08:30-17:00 weekdays or send us a message via the contact form on this website and we will get back to you.