shipping container crane Introduction

shipping container crane

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shipping container crane

Shipping container cranes, also known as container handling gantry cranes or ship-to-shore cranes, are essential for the efficient loading and unloading of intermodal containers from container ships at container terminals. These cranes play a vital role in port operations, allowing for the smooth transfer of containers between ships, yards, and trailers. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various types and sizes of container cranes, their operation, power sources, and the training required for crane operators. We will also delve into the history of port cranes and highlight some of the leading manufacturers in the industry. shipping container crane

Types of Container Cranes

Container cranes can be categorized into two main types: quay cranes and yard cranes.

Quay Cranes

Quay cranes, also known as ship-to-shore cranes (STS), are located along the quayside and are responsible for loading and unloading containers from ships to the shore and vice versa. These cranes are crucial for the efficient transfer of containers between container ships and the port.

Yard Cranes

Yard cranes, on the other hand, are primarily located within the port’s container yard. They are responsible for moving laden containers from the yard to trailers or vice versa. The two most common types of yard cranes are Rail-Mounted Gantry Cranes (RMG) and Rubber-Tired Gantry Cranes (RTG).

Sizes of Container Cranes

Container cranes come in various sizes to accommodate the different lifting capacities and container ship sizes. The size of a crane determines its ability to handle containers of different weights and dimensions.

Smaller Sizes

Smaller container cranes, such as straddle carriers, are used at railway sidings to transfer containers between flatcars and semi-trailers. They are also used at break-of-gauge transloading facilities.

Panamax and Post-Panamax

Panamax cranes are designed to fully load and unload containers from Panamax class container ships that can pass through the Panama Canal. Post-Panamax cranes, on the other hand, are used for container ships that are too large to pass through the Panama Canal.

Super Post-Panamax

The largest container cranes are classified as super post-Panamax. These cranes have the capability to lift two 20-foot containers at once and have a rated lifting capacity of up to 120 tonnes. They are designed to handle the largest container ships and can have an outreach of up to 26 container rows.

Operation of Container Cranes

Container cranes are operated by skilled crane operators who are responsible for the safe and efficient movement of containers. The crane operator sits in a cabin suspended from the trolley and operates the crane using various controls.

The crane is equipped with a spreader, a specialized handling tool that can be lowered onto a container and locks onto the container’s four corner castings using a twistlock mechanism. The crane can transport a single container at a time, but some newer cranes have the ability to pick up multiple containers simultaneously.

Once the spreader locks onto the container, the container is lifted, moved over the dock, and placed on a truck chassis to be taken to the storage yard. Similarly, the crane can lift containers from chassis on the dock and load them onto the ship. Other port equipment, such as straddle carriers and reach stackers, assist in the transportation of containers within the port.

Power Sources for Container Cranes

Container cranes are typically powered by either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) motors. AC motors are more commonly used due to their higher torque capabilities compared to DC motors.

The power supply for port cranes can come from two sources: a diesel engine-driven generator located on top of the crane or electric power from the dock. The voltage required for the operation of the cranes can vary from 4,000 to 13,200 volts.

History of Port Cranes

The use of cranes in harbors dates back to the Middle Ages, where cranes were used for various harbor-related tasks. However, modern container cranes emerged in the mid-1950s with the advent of containerization.

Containerization revolutionized the shipping industry by introducing standardized containers that could be easily loaded and unloaded using specialized cranes. The first container crane was built in 1959 by Paceco for Matson at the Encinal Terminal in Alameda, California.

Since then, container cranes have become an integral part of port operations, facilitating the efficient movement of containers and improving supply chain efficiency.

Port Crane Operators

Port crane operators play a crucial role in the safe and efficient operation of container cranes. These operators are responsible for loading and unloading shipping containers from or onto vessels, ensuring maximum precision and concentration.

Port crane operators work from a protective cabin attached to the crane’s boom and use controls to maneuver the crane and its spreader. They rely on stevedores and radio communication to properly position and secure containers.

Training is essential for port crane operators to handle the equipment safely and efficiently. Crane manufacturers typically provide training programs covering topics such as precise lifting, safety guidelines, equipment inspection, and the use of hand signals.

Salaries of Port Crane Operators

The salary of a port crane operator can vary depending on factors such as skill level, experience, and the type of crane being operated. In the United States, port crane operators earn an average salary of around $45,000 per year.

Port crane operators require physical fitness, the ability to work at heights, and the capacity to work under pressure. They must possess excellent hand-eye coordination and be able to carry out their tasks with precision and efficiency.

Leading Port Crane Manufacturers

Several manufacturers are known for producing high-quality port cranes. These manufacturers offer a range of cranes designed for different port applications.


Liebherr, a German-Swiss crane manufacturer, produces a wide range of port cranes, including ship-to-shore cranes, rail-mounted gantry cranes, mobile harbor cranes, and dockyard cranes. Liebherr is known for its innovative and reliable cranes.


KoneCranes is a leading provider of port equipment, offering ship-to-shore cranes, rail-mounted gantry cranes, and rubber-tired gantry cranes. The company is known for its high-quality and technologically advanced cranes.


Kalmar specializes in automated port equipment and offers a range of cranes, including ship-to-shore cranes, rubber-tired gantry cranes, and electric empty container handlers. The company is known for its commitment to sustainability and efficiency.

Weihua Cranes

Weihua Cranes is a Chinese manufacturer that produces ship-to-shore cranes and rail-mounted gantry cranes. The company offers affordable port cranes without compromising on quality and performance.

China Communications Construction Company (CCCC)

CCCC is the largest port design and construction company in China, manufacturing a range of port cranes. The company is involved in global infrastructure projects and provides cost-effective solutions for port operations.


Container cranes are indispensable in modern port operations, enabling the efficient handling of intermodal containers between ships, yards, and trailers. These cranes come in various types and sizes to accommodate different container ship classes and lifting capacities. Skilled crane operators play a vital role in the safe and effective operation of container cranes. Training programs are available to equip operators with the necessary skills and knowledge. Leading manufacturers such as Liebherr, KoneCranes, Kalmar, Weihua Cranes, and CCCC produce high-quality port cranes that contribute to the smooth functioning of ports worldwide. By understanding the different types, sizes, and operations of container cranes, we gain insight into the crucial role they play in the global supply chain. shipping container crane