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CBM in LCL ocean freight | W/M - Weight or Measurement in sea freight | CBM in FCL ocean freight | CBM in RO-RO shipments

CUBIC METER and Weight or Measurement (w/m) in respect of international shipping of ocean freight from the USA

Sometimes international shippers may misunderstand a meaning of cubic meter in international shipping using ocean freight services. This web page should help you to understand meaning of cubic meter in respect of international shipping of seafreight from the USA.

Commonly used abbreviations in international shipping of seafreight: Cubic Meter = CBM, CM, m3. Cubic foot = CBF, CF, ft3.

  • One cubic meter is a considerably large volume for your ocean freight shipment
  • A cubic meter is a measurement of volume, that takes your ocean freight shipment, and is equal to space of one meter wide, one meter long and one meter high.
  • One metric meter = aprx. 3.28 metric feet

These images should help you get an idea how much cargo you can fit inside of volume of just ONE cubic meter.

size of cubic meter by      fit shipping boxes in CBM


A cubic meter is something 1 meter long by 1 meter wide by 1 meter high
(or 3.28 feet long by 3.28 feet wide by 3.28 feet high)

  • 1m * 1m * 1m = 1 CUBIC METER
  • 3.28ft * 3.28ft * 3.28ft = 35 CUBIC FEET = 1 CUBIC METER

Technically cubic meter could be any combination of lengths as long as all three dimensions multiplied together equals 1.

  • 0.5m * 0.5m * 4m = 1 CUBIC METER
  • 5ft * 7ft * 1ft = 35 CUBIC FEET = 1 CUBIC METER



I. Cubic Meter in LCL. Less than Container Load international ocean freight service.

Besides the shipping cost of your international ocean freight shipment, the advantage of shipping sizable cargo using LCL ocean freight service (Less than Container Load) is because most of the time WEIGHT OF CARGO IS NOT A PRICING FACTOR in your international shipping (this statement is not valid for extremely heavy cargo. Find about W/M limitations in respect of shipping ocean freight below).

Unlike with a parcel service or airfreight, in international shipping of LCL ocean freight, freight rates are primarily based on volume but not on weight of cargo. Ocean freight rates in international shipping using LCL ocean freight service will be based on  ocean freight rates per its total shipping volume in cubic meters (or cubic feet), but not on weight of cargo in kilos or pounds. When calculate international shipping price rates in LCL service, shippers should not not worry about weight of cargo. Is you use LCL sefreight service in your international shipping, then just disregard weight of your cargo. Note: This rule applies when you use a service from an international shipping company (ocean freight forwarder or NVOCC). This rule may not apply if you use a service provided by an international moving company.

If you ship loose boxes using LCL ocean freight service in your international shipping, then these pictures should give you an idea on how shipping boxes may fit into the volume of one cubic meter.

             shipping boxes in seafreight    cubic meter in international shippingshipping boxes fit in one cubic meter

Note: YOUR SHIPPED CARGO VOLUME DOES NOT HAVE TO BE LIMITED TO ONE CUBIC METER. INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING OF LCL FREIGHT DOES NOT LIMITED BY SHIPPING VOLUME. The total volume for your international ocean freight shipment will be derived as a sum of volumes of your shipping units (including fractions). For example:

 international shipping of boxes in seafreight

Shipping of 20 boxes sizes of 18”x14”x12” is equal to shipping 1.42 CUBIC METERS

(20x1.50’x1.67’x1’ = 50.1 cubic feet = 1.42 CUBIC METERS)

 international shipping of boxes

Shipping of 6 boxes sizes of 18”x18”x22” is equal to shipping

(6x1.50’x1.50’x1.83’ = 24.7 cubic feet = 0.7 CUBIC METERS)


Typically (but not always) the minimum in ocean freight charge is equal to charge for shipping of cargo of volume of one cubic meter.

You should always remember that if your total shipping volume multiplied by rate per CBM will be less than a minimum in the ocean freight rate, then you be charged that minimum regardless on an actual volume shipped. 

In your international shipping, using LCL ocean freight service, you may ship overseas any volume and a wide variety of boxes. You can mix and match boxes of any size. You can ship boxes, crates, luggage or any other freight properly packaged and labeled for the international shipping.

Notice: this rules may not work if you ship ocean freight with an international moving company (most of the times when you are moving from the USA overseas). This topic is provide understanding of using international shipping services from international shipping companies (U.S. freight forwarders or NVOCCs). Information related to international moving companies services is widely presented in on line. Contact a particular international moving company in order to find services packages offered by international moving companies on international shipping goods from or to the USA by sea.

The Weight or Measurement Rule (w/m rule) in respect of ocean freight and inland transportation (LTL)

W/M is the acronym for Weight or Measurement commonly used in international and domestic cargo transportation industries. It means: 'Weight or Measurement, which ever is grater'. W/M rule presents cargo density limit. I.e. light cargo is charged based on the measure, while heavy cargo based on the weight. W/M calculations may differ among carriers.

International shippers should be aware of CHARGEABLE WEIGHT AND CHARGEABLE VOLUME (WM) definitions used in different modes of cargo transportation. In respect of international shipping of ocean freight and domestic inland freight modes of transportation the meanings of WM are:

INTERNATIONAL OCEAN FREIGHT MODE OF TRANSPORTATION: Since international shipping companies' vessel capacity is not really limited by weight of cargo but by the hold of the ship, then charges for regular ocean freight shipments are based on the total cargo volume. In general for international ocean freight shipments, the weight of the cargo is not a pricing factor.

However, in international shipping using LCL ocean freight service, there is a cargo density limit if WM ocean freight rates are present. It varies depending on international ocean freight carriers, origins and destinations, etc. Regular international ocean freight shipments most likely will not exceed the density limit. In general exporters and importers have to be aware of the 'U.S. 45 lbs rule in ocean freight': 45 lbs = 1 cubic foot. This means that if density of international LCL ocean freight shipment exceeds 45 lbs per one cubic foot, then chargeable shipping volume (total shipping cost) on the ocean freight will be calculated using this formula: Total Weight of ocean freight (in pounds) divided by 45 lbs = Chargeable Volume in cubic feet.

The limit of 1 cubic meter = 750 kilos can be used as well. However, in ocean freight international shipping, depending on ocean freight carrier, origin and destination etc, it may vary: 1 cbm = 500 kilos; 1 cbm = 1000 kilos etc. The exporter or imported involved in international shipping of ocean freight shipment should be advised about W/M by the international ocean freight carrier when making a booking.

THE U.S. DOMESTIC INLAND MODE OF TRANSPORTATION (Pickup or Line-haul charges): W/M for Inland Trucking is more heavily restricted then in international shipping of ocean freight and subject to actual or dimensional weight verification by LTL carriers. In the USA chargeable weight for inland freight trucking using LTL services should be calculated using this formula:

Chargeable Weight in Pounds = Actual Weight of the freight OR (Length x Width x Height in inches) divided by 194, whichever is greater.

If W/M rules apply then it should be indicated in carriers documents for each international ocean freight shipment.

II. Cubic Meter in International shipping using FCL ocean freight service (Full Container Load)

In respect of internationl shipping using FCL service, international FCL ocean freight rates are based on sizes on ocean freight containers, but on weight or volume of shipped goods. International shippers should be aware of CUBIC CAPACITIES AND PAYLOADS of multimodal sea freight containers to be shipped from or to the USA.

International shipping of seafreight containers


Here are cubic capacities and payloads for mostly commonly used intermodal ocean freight containers:

    Cubic Capacity: 33.0 cbm (1,165 cubic ft)
    Payload* :22,100 kg (48,721 lbs)
    Cubic Capacity: 67.3 cbm (2,377 cubic ft)
    Payload*: 27,397 kg (60,401 lbs)
    Cubic Capacity: 76.0 cbm (2,684 cubic ft)
    Payload*: 29,600 kg (65,256 lbs)

*Payload weight exceeds over-the-road legal limits in US and Canada. Recommended maximum payload for the US and Canada is 35,000 lbs per 20' and 42,000 lbs per 40'.

III. Cubic Meter in respect of international shipping using RO-RO (Roll On/Roll Off) ocean freight service

International ocean freight rates with international shipping companies that provide Ro-Ro service are based on cubic meter or cubic foot and type of shipped vehicles. Than bigger is vehicle, then higher the international ocean freight rate per cubic meter or cubic foot and the total international shipping cost tereafter.

A total shipping cost in international shipping using Ro-Ro ocean freight service will be calculated as a total volume of your vehicle shipped from the USA in cubic meters or cubic feet multiplied to an ocean freight rate per cubic meter or cubic foot.

International shipping cars RO-RO

Exemptions can be rates for shipping cars from US using Ro-Ro service. It can be a lump sum per vehicle depending on its size. For example: Cars up to 600 cubic feet of total volume and up to 1.6 meters high - $1,300 lump sum + BAF & CAF etc. However, that "lump sum" ocean freight rate is initially based on range of volume in cubic meters or cubic feet as well.

CBM in LCL ocean freight | W/M - Weight or Measurement in sea freight | CBM in FCL ocean freight | CBM in RO-RO shipments

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