Blank sailing happens more frequently than you think. And the rate at which it’s occurring now is highly impacting the logistics chain. Understand the meaning of blank sailing, the challenges it poses, and ways to counter the effects right here in this piece.


It’s early morning, and you get a call from your freight operator that your cargo has blank sailed and needs rescheduling. Your first reaction would be to panic, right? But hold on! Don’t, not yet.

If you’re in the shipping business, this is a term you’ll hear very often. What you need to know is, what blank sailing stands for, and why it happens. Understanding this will help you be more prepared the next time. So, let’s dive in.

blank sailing

What is blank sailing?

Blank sailing, also known as void sailing, is a term used when a shipping line or carrier decides to skip a particular port or an entire voyage of a scheduled sailing route.

It’s nothing new that carriers announce blank sailings from time to time. However, what’s new is the number of blank sailings since the Coronavirus hit the world. It put a halt to many containers and vessels shipped around the globe.

Carriers and shipping lines work with sailing schedules. They’ve got a fixed number of days to complete the schedule and get back to the base. These schedules give them published dates of arrival at the destination ports. Each port has a specific number of days to discharge and load the vessel.

These timelines are necessary at every stop. Let’s say the final destination on the route is Singapore. Singapore is the key port for the shipping line, and the vessel should arrive on time. Otherwise, many containers will be compromised.

But keeping up with the route schedule isn’t always possible. A vessel may run late at a previous port for various reasons such as weather conditions or port congestion. To avoid more wait time and avoid delays to reach Singapore, the shipping line, in this case, has to announce a blank sailing.

What happens to the containers meant to be loaded or unloaded at the now-canceled port?

Well, they’ve to wait at the pick-up port until the next vessel with the same destination arrives.

If you’re wondering about freight rates, yes, this impacts the rates. Moreover, blank sailing makes container shipping expensive for users with rising demurrage and detention charges.

There are many reasons for blank sailing, especially when shipping lines want to reduce capacity to keep freight rates steady or increase them. You’ll read more about the other common reasons further in the piece.

Before we jump to that, let’s delve a little more into understanding blank sailing with an example.

Understanding blank sailing with an example

Let’s say your cargo is in vessel ABC. The vessel has a schedule to sail from Port of Hamburg, Germany, to Jeddah Port, Saudi Arabia. The timeline is as follows:

  • Ship sails from Hamburg on 31st October
  • Arrives at Rotterdam on 1st November, and sails out on 2 November.
  • Arrives at port Felixstowe on 3rd November and sails out on 4th November
  • Arrives at port Le Havre on 5th November and sails out on 6th November
  • Arrives at port Valencia on 10th November, and sails out on 12th November.
  • Arrives at Port Said on 20th November
  • Arrives at Jeddah port on 30th November

However, with port congestion at Le Havre, and severe labor problems at Valencia, the vessel decides to skip both these ports and sail directly to Port Said. It’s to avoid delays and be on schedule for the rest of the voyage.

So, Port of Le Havre and the Port of Valencia are marked as “blank sailings”.

So, the cargos at these ports now have to wait for the next ship to these destinations. This process is time-consuming and can take weeks (of course, depending on the sailing schedule).

5 reasons why blank sailing happens

You’ll notice that blank sailing is common right after a major holiday season like the Chinese New Year. It’s because the factories are closed, and shipping demands are low. Let’s take a quick look at some of the common reasons for blank sailing.

blank sailing

Low demand for container space on a vessel

Blank sailing largely depends on the demand for space on a vessel. If the demand is low for a specific string, shipping lines issue a blank sailing or cancel an entire voyage of a scheduled sailing route.

Low demand allows carriers to consolidate shipments from multiple vessels as it turns out to be cost-effective for them. Additionally, it increases the efficiency of shipments. It’s mostly planned at a short notice to meet such uncertainties.

In 2020, blank sailing was heavily prevalent among several trans-pacific and Asian shipping lines because of low cargo space demand due to the pandemic.

Shipping lines reduce capacity to push up freight rates

Shipping lines resort to blank sailing mainly to optimize their operation and other services. However, they also use this as an opportunity to either stabilize or push up their freight rates by canceling previously scheduled sailings.

Carriers want to keep rates up by omitting the number of sailings even though the demand for space is low. It’s seen right after holiday seasons such as Chinese New Year and Golden Week.

Port congestion

One of the other common reasons for blank sailing is when ports are congested. This may lead to unexpected delays in the scheduled routine. Thus, shipping lines find it easier to skip a certain port.

Mechanical problems in the ship

Sometimes vessels encounter mechanical issues and require urgent repairs that can be done only at particular locations/ports. This hinders the originally scheduled sailing. In such cases, a carrier can skip a port to keep up with the rest of the schedule or choose a more urgent route.

Port strikes and labor unrest

Just like port congestion, port strikes due to labor strife contributes to blank sailing. Such situations can take a long time to settle down and often delays vessel berthing and other services at ports.

Bad weather

maersk vessel

Weather is another contributing factor for blank sailing. Weather warnings such as tropical storms at some locations require ships to play safe. This is done by canceling their trip to these regions. Sometimes, they also “wait-out” until berthing and sailing are considered safe again. This may delay the schedule too.

Blank sailing can impact you in a big way if things go unplanned and there’s no plan B to the rescue. It affects the supply chain and leads to a longer waiting time. Vessels run behind schedule and containers get stuck at ports. This attracts additional charges for your shipment as you’ve to end up paying large bills of demurrage and detention. This is where SOC containers come to your rescue.

Also known as shipper owned containers, SOC gives you more flexibility and control of your shipment. Thus, you can avoid unexpected demurrage and detention costs from the carrier.

Want to know more about SOC and how it can help you avoid demurrage and detention? Click the banner below and find these containers easily on xChange.


Challenges caused by blank sailing

Blank sailing poses a challenge for you and affects the ocean carriers too. Frequent blank sailing can impact their market standing and relation with their clients. Especially, when it’s about increasing cargo demand and increased freight rates.

It also affects the storage space available to you. And end up leasing space from a third-party service provider to accommodate the overstocked cargo after blank sailing.

Since you didn’t receive the cargo on time, as planned, this may force you to use your buffer stock. Eventually, the production may be affected too.

Blank sailing can also lead to confusion in the market. When your customer doesn’t receive goods on time, there’s definite chaos and a negative impact on them. Even if you arrange for alternate transportation, the price of the goods will ultimately be higher than what was expected.

The impact of blank sailing is evident if your cargo had perishable goods such as food items, flowers, or dairy products. Due to its time-sensitive nature, you’ll either have to divert them or label them as “a loss”.

What to do to counter the effects of blank sailing?

Firstly, don’t freak out!

Blank sailing is a part of the shipping business and you have to deal with it. That’s the truth! Though shipping companies inform you in advance, most of the time, it’s too late to take any useful steps.

However, with careful planning and crisis management in place, you can set sail once again (pun intended). An effective forecast and transparent communication strategy can give you a heads-up.

Though most likely, your cargo will be booked onto the next available vessel, we recommend you to keep safety stock in place. Have a backup transportation arrangement, of course, keeping in mind the urgency for the goods and your market commitments.

Demurrage and detention on the rise

With the many blanked sailings more containers get stuck around the world. For example, in the US, many empty containers are stacked at the ports waiting to be shipped to Asia. But due to the blank sailings in the U.S, there are fewer spots open on the vessels that do port of call at the predestined ports.

However, it’s not only the empty containers that are waiting. Also, filled containers are delayed. At ports, terminal operators cancel work shifts because of the lower import. This is sometimes done with such short notice that it isn’t possible to adjust the pick-up schedules. The lack of planning means that the containers will have to wait at ports for a longer period, using their free days.

When the free days have been used, the demurrage and detention charges are added. Charges that can accumulate up to 20 times the value of the container itself.

Waiting costs

Demurrage is charged when a container isn’t picked up and gated from the terminal before the free days end. Demurrage charges are usually paid before shipments are picked up.

On the other hand, detention charges occur when the container is out of the port. In case the container isn’t delivered back to the carrier within the free days. Detention charges are added if a container user has picked up a container for loading but hasn’t returned it within the set free days.

blank sailing demurrage and detention

Avoid demurrage and detention fees due to blank sailing

Demurrage and detention can cause disarray in your final shipping cost. But, there’s a way to reduce the risk of paying a large sum of demurrage and detention charges. Carriers charge demurrage and detention for their COC containers (carrier owned containers).

As an alternative to these containers, there are SOC containers. With SOC containers you avoid unexpected demurrage and detention costs from the carrier.

The icing on the cake is when you find SOC containers at xChange! You negotiate a per diem charge with the supplier, just in case you exceed the free days. This charge is significantly lower than the demurrage and detention.

Let’s get some more clarity on SOC containers and how they benefit you.

Advantages with SOC containers

With SOC containers, you’re in charge of hiring a carrier and other parties to transport the shipment. These containers give you more flexibility, control, and independence.

One of the main benefits of SOCs is that you can control the costs and avoid the expensive demurrage and detention charges.

You’re also in charge of the supply of containers, giving you the opportunity to source containers on your own. You’re also able to choose what containers you need, in what condition, and whether to lease or buy containers.

Get SOC containers on xChange

trading dashboard

Usually, with SOC containers, you’ll have to put in the time to find partners for every step of the route. But finding SOCs doesn’t have to be difficult at all. Yes, you read that right. And we’ve got a solution for that which will help you avoid pricey fees such as demurrage and detention.

With Container xChange, you can find SOC containers in more than 2500 locations from 800+ vetted members. Increase your operational flexibility with SOC containers and gain control over your shipments; let demurrage and detention charges be a thing of the past. Sounds good, huh?

All you have to do is type in your pick-up and drop-off location. You’ll get a list of partners, who either have containers waiting to be used or need to use containers. And all this will be at your fingertips within a few seconds.

Want to know more about SOC and how it can help you avoid demurrage and detention? Click the banner below and find these containers easily on xChange.


Blank sailing: Common FAQs

What is blank sailing?

Blank sailing is a term used when a shipping line decides to skip a certain port or an entire voyage of a scheduled sailing route.

Why does blank sailing occur?

There are many reasons why it happens, but the most common is when shipping lines want to reduce capacity to keep freight rates steady or increase them.

Why are there blank sailings around the Chinese New Year?

Blank sailing is common right after major holiday seasons such as the Chinese New Year and Golden Week. This is because the factories are closed and shipping demands are low.

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What is Blank Sailing? [+How it Disrupts Container Logistics]
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What is Blank Sailing? [+How it Disrupts Container Logistics]
Blanked sailings happen on a frequent basis, but not at the rate we’re seeing now. The increased number of blank sailings are causing problems through the logistics chain. Making container shipping more expensive for users with rising demurrage and detention charges.
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