How To Open a Shipping Container When the Doors Are Stuck

 In International Shipping, ocean freight, shipping containers

TT Club, an insurance company that specializes in the insurance of Intermodal Operators, NVOCs, Freight Forwarders, Logistics Operators, Marine Terminals, Stevedores, Port Authorities, and Ship Operators, has a great article with the heading, “Opening doors, when things are not so easy.”

If you didn’t know TT Club was an insurance provider in the world of international shipping, you’d think the article is about opening those metaphorical doors of opportunity when things aren’t going well for you (like not being able to get your lumber inspected for export because of the effects of a government shutdown.)

However, the doors TT Club’s article is about are literal doors, specifically shipping container doors.

We’ve all had experiences with doors that are hard to open. The TT Club article describes a car door frozen shut. Having grown up in Michigan, I’m familiar with that situation. Living in Southern California now, I don’t have to worry about that now.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have to deal with doors getting stuck.

In fact, recently the door on our bedroom started sticking. A couple days ago, I heard banging coming from the bedroom followed by my wife calling my name. I was caught by surprised. Normally, I’d be present for such sounds. Turned out, my wife was trapped in the bedroom, unable to get the door open.

How to Open Shipping Container DoorsI didn’t have much trouble getting that door open. It certainly didn’t present the kind of difficulty a stuck shipping container door can present. According to TT Club, injuries happen when personnel are opening and closing shipping container doors and those injuries are on the rise.

TT Club says such injuries are often the result of an inappropriate technique being used to open shipping containers, especially employing the use of mechanical force like trying to pry the doors open with a crow bar.

Shipping container doors are not like car doors or bedroom doors. There are four or five hinges per shipping container door and the hinge pins must be lined up right for the doors to be free to fully open and close as they’re supposed to. Even then, if you are trying to open a shipping container that is on a trailer, chasis, or even the ground where the locking gear handles are at an inconvenient height, it will make the shipping container difficult to open.

Here are tips for safely opening a shipping container straight from TT Club:

1. Open Shipping Container at Proper Height.

The shipping container’s “handles should be directly in front of you and at a height that is above the waist and below the shoulders,” TT Club says.

2. Use Proper Technique.

“Technique is all-important. Start with the two lock rods on the right hand door, lift the handles out of the retainers and rotate them together as far as they will go. This should be more than 90º and rotation beyond 90º often initiates the door opening process by forcing the cams out of their keepers. Then grasp the vertical locking bars, one in each hand, so that your hands are just below shoulder height and pull back with your body, using your leg muscles rather than your back,” TT Club says.

“If the door is still stuck,” TT Club continues, “unless specifically advised against doing so (ie. the container is carrying a flexitank or bulk cargo), open the locking bars on the left hand door and then grasp the inner locking rod of both doors and pull back, again using your body not your back. If the door still will not open, ask a colleague to pull on one door while you pull on the other.”

3. Avoid Frustration and Crow Bars

TT Club says that injuries almost always occur when frustration takes over and mechanical means such as a crow bar or a fork truck are used to try to open the shipping container doors.

If you feel yourself getting frustrated, step back, take a deep breath, and compose yourself. It’s not worth getting hurt over and there’s probably a reason the shipping container doors won’t open.

TT Club says there are four likely reasons a shipping container door won’t open. Here’s what they list:

  1. The container frame is racked so that the door gear will not operate correctly. This may be caused by cargo shifting during transit. Look at the container to make sure that the doors are aligned and level, both top and bottom.
  2. The hinge pins and blade are seized due to corrosion.
  3. The door gasket has been damaged and is preventing opening. Door gaskets are designed to present two or more fins against the structure or adjacent door. These are generally flexible but when the gasket is damaged, they may become hard or blocked thus jamming the door closed, or preventing it being closed.
  4. Water has become trapped between the doors and frozen, particularly relevant to refrigerated cargoes, or containers with moisture releasing cargoes in cold weather.

TT Club recommends that if the doors cannot be opened when you go to pack it, send the shipping container back.

Sometimes, a shipping container has already been packed and has arrived and the doors won’t open. If this is the case, follow the steps above. Move forward by trying to pull both doors open at a time, using more and more power. If it takes more than two people, report the problem to the container operator.

In this situation, it is also important to be aware that the contents of the container could fall out and be a hazard. It is always good to be watching out for this, especially as the contents of a shipping container can shift over the course of international shipping.

One way to make opening the doors safer for you and your cargo is to use proper shipping container loading practices for your ocean freight. We have a blog you can check out about proper shipping container loading practices and guidelines.

TT Club reiterates reporting anything unusual about shipping container doors. For more information about maintaining shipping container doors, you can check out TT Club’s article by clicking the source link below.

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