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Efficient Container Swapping: A Guide for On-Site Exchanges

Last Updated on May 14, 2024

Introduction to Container swapping 

It is important for you to understand container swapping procedures to keep your personnel safe and ensure our driver can be on and off site in good time.

The logistics is straightforward but the procedure is time consuming and needs plenty of space to actually carry out this action.

We have been supplying shipping containers for nearly 15 years and our transport guys are extremely experienced when it comes to loading and unloading shipping containers from their Hi ab vehicles.

Understanding the Process

All our containers are delivered and offloaded by using an HI ab vehicle. Hi ab is a brand name. All our transport companies have the HI Ab crane fitted to their vehicles. Hi ab cranes are perfect to offload an empty shipping container to the ground.

Our transport guys use either Arctic (60ft long) or Rigid (40ft) vehicles fitted with the Hi ab crane. These cranes can ONLY offload the weight of a 20ft or a 40ft shipping container. The rigid vehicles are used for the 20ft container and the arctic vehicles are used for the 40ft containers or 2 x 20ft containers. 

The containers must be EMPTY when loading and unloading our vehicles.

All vehicles have to extend their outriggers before offloading, to ensure they are stable for this offload procedure. There are 2 outriggers to each side and they will extend 10ft to the side of the vehicle.

In order to swap a container, there are many procedures that have to be carried out to have a successful swap.

If the container has to be swapped for the same position, then there are a number of movements to make.

Eg. The new container that is being delivered needs to be offloaded somewhere else, before taking the old container away, then the new container needs to be lifted, moved and positioned in the original location.

Everytime there is a move, the driver has to put the outriggers off to the side for stability and chain up the container for offloading and or loading onto the vehicle.

This is the vehicle arriving with new container

Vehicle with the outriggers to the side.

The driver has to climb onto the container for chaining the container ready for offload.

Each of these photos show the whole procedure for offloading a container from a Hi ab vehicle. The time taken can be in the region of 30-60 mins per movement. For container swapping (using the same location) this procedure has to be carried out up to 5 times in all depending on the space available on site.

Preparing for the Swap

You will need to have sufficient space for swapping the container. The area must have a good surface, be stable and accessible.

This job can take a while to carry out, depending on the space available to the driver.

Please see our Delivery and collection page here for more information about your site requirements.

Executing the Swap

  1. The new container will arrive with the hi ab vehicle.
  2. This container will need to be offloaded somewhere else
  3. The vehicle then goes to the old container and lifts the old container onto the vehicle.
  4. The old container will need to be offloaded somewhere else
  5. The vehicle then goes to the new container and lifts the container onto the vehicle and takes it over to where the old container came from
  6. The new container is offloaded
  7. The vehicle will then lift the old container onto the vehicle ready to take away from the site.

All the while you will need to ensure there is sufficient room for all these moves, along with good communication between the site personnel, ensuring safety protocols are adhered to.

Troubleshooting and Best Practices

Some of the common challenges for offloading and loading a shipping container is that on-site personnel can walk or run into the area of offload/loading which can be dangerous. We recommend you keep your staff updated before we arrive so that these hazards can be kept to the minimum. 

You will need to advise the personnel of our delivery times and that they should keep away from the working area. This is your responsibility. 

The containers that are being positioned temporarily must not be blocked in, this can cause extra time and costs.

Benefits of professional assistance

All our drivers are qualified to handle the hi ab vehicles, however, they do need assistance from your personnel to ensure your staff are kept safe and do not hinder the offloading and loading procedures. Safety is paramount.

Using Hi abs (crane) are the best solutions when offloading and loading a shipping container on and off a truck.


You will need sufficient space for the swapping of a shipping container on your site.

These procedures can take some time and you will need to be sure that the containers being placed in temporary positions will not be blocked in, therefore hindering the delivery time. Extra costs may be incurred.

Your personnel should be kept away from the working areas whilst my driver is offloading and loading a shipping container.

For more information please call us on 0800 121 7388 or email us at