General Cargo: Definition, Types, and Pros and Cons

General Cargo: Definition, Types, and Pros and Cons

General cargo sits at the heart of the shipping industry. It’s the backbone of business ventures around the globe. This article defines the complexities of general cargo, its definitions, the different types, and the pros and cons.

The shipping industry operates globally across vast expanses like the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and all across the United States via ground, air, ocean, rail. and intermodal transportation. Shipping transports diverse cargoes, from bulk and liquid to specialized goods. At the heart of this shipping industry lies general cargo. It’s the backbone of business ventures around the globe.

This article defines the complexities of general cargo, its definitions, the different types, and the pros and cons.

General Cargo and Transported Goods

General cargo includes goods typically transported in bags, boxes, crates, drums, or barrels. Bulk cargo consists of loose materials like grain, coal, or iron ore loaded directly into a ship’s hold or train carriage, while general cargo ships in smaller units.

The difference isn’t merely the content but the shipping methods. For instance, bulk cargo requires specialized carriers or oil tankers, general cargo ships, or container ships to transport general cargo. This categorization streamlines the shipping process and ensures goods reach their port in optimal condition.

Key Types of General Cargo

General cargo is a broad category divided by the nature of the goods, packaging, and handling requirements and is governed by law. To simplify, here is a list of major categories under general cargo.


Clothes are a major component of general cargo. Manufacturers ship garments in boxes or containers. Due to their lightweight, they require less stringent shipping conditions. One common issue in shipping garments is moisture or pressure changes that can damage certain fabrics.


Furniture, from sofas to wooden tables, requires specialized shipping. These goods are bulky and vulnerable to damage. Furniture transport relies on containers with protective covers.


Edibles, including perishable goods, are commonly transported as general cargo. They require temperature-controlled environments, especially traveling long distances, like international cargo.


Beverages form a substantial part of general cargo, from bottled water to fine wines. Depending on their content, they might need refrigeration or specific storage conditions. For example, wines require temperature control to maintain their quality. Beverages shipped in glass containers are fragile.

Machinery and Equipment

This category includes small electronics and heavy machinery. Shipping these items is complex. Fragile electronics might need shock-proof packaging, while larger machinery demands special loading equipment.

Construction Material

Bricks, cement, tiles, and other construction materials are a significant portion of the general cargo. Given their weight and size, shipping companies use extra caution to avoid damage.

Agricultural Goods

Agricultural goods include any products from grains and fruits to live animals. Given the perishable nature of these items, they always require special conditions during transit. Temperature-controlled environments or specific ventilation systems protect these fragile and time-sensitive goods.

Personal Goods

Personal goods refer to personal effects, souvenirs, or even vehicles individuals transport. These items are diverse and require individualized packaging or handling instructions.

Electronic Goods

Electronic goods, like smartphones, computers, and home appliances, are a significant component of today’s global trade. It’s imperative to protect them against moisture and temperature fluctuations.

Pros and Cons of Shipping General Cargo

Shipping general-type cargo presents opportunities and challenges for the shipping industry and businesses. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages is essential for any enterprise or individual.


  • Diverse Shipping Options: Given the broad spectrum of general cargo, various shipping options are available, like a general cargo ship or a container ship. Cargo ships also via train, air, and truck transport.
  • Increased Profit Margins: Transporting general cargo can lead to higher profit margins for shipping companies. This type of cargo might require specialized handling and storage conditions, which commands higher freight charges.
  • Flexibility: General cargo offers flexibility in shipment size, ranging from a single package to large batches, catering to individual and business needs.


  • Complex Handling: The diversity in general cargo makes handling complex, especially when a merchant ship or train carries multiple types of goods requiring varied storage conditions.
  • Potential for Damage: Given the variety, the potential for damage increases during transport. Precautions for proper handling are essential.
  • Time Spent: Loading and unloading cargo can be more time-consuming than bulk cargo, affecting the ship’s turnaround time at the port.

Shipping General Cargo

general cargo delivery

Shipping any cargo is a vital aspect of the global economy. General cargo caters to many needs, including personal items, food, or machinery. 

Successful shipping and handling requires a team of professionals. These shipping professionals understand the complexities and logistics of transporting goods, whether it requires a general cargo ship or safe handling for dangerous goods.

As the needs of our supply chains and consumer needs evolve, the methods and technologies associated with shipping cargo demand expert logistics. Logistics strategies ensure the safe voyage of electronic goods or liquid cargo across the Atlantic or Pacific from destinations aroun the globe.

Tips for Choosing a General Goods Cargo Freight Provider

Selecting the right freight provider for general cargo assures speedy and efficient delivery. The company’s reputation is paramount. Logistics and transportation companies leverages their expertise, utilizing various modes of transportation such as ships or trucks to efficiently handle cargo, ensuring it meets specific capacity and requirements.

Reputable shipping companies have vetted reviews and have a long-standing history in the industry.


Shipping by sea vessels is one of the oldest and most reliable transport methods. Vessels, like general cargo ships, have the capacity and are cost-effective for large shipments. Transit times are longer than air and battle unpredictable ocean conditions.


Air freight is the quickest method to ship goods internationally. It’s ideal for perishable items or time-sensitive goods. However, it’s generally more expensive than sea or train and may have weight and size restrictions.


Rail transport is an efficient method for transporting goods overland. It’s effective for bulk goods and offers a cost-effective solution to carry large loads. However, its reach is limited and depends on rail infrastructure.


Frequently asked questions about general cargo.

What are the types of general cargo?

General cargo includes clothes, furniture, machinery, personal items, and electronic goods.

What is general cargo vs. container cargo?

Cargo consists of diverse items shipped individually or in batches, while container cargo is goods loaded into standardized containers.

What are general cargo containers?

General cargo containers are versatile containers used to transport varied goods, not limited to one category.

General Cargo Different Types Summary

General cargo encompasses many goods transported worldwide, from personal items to large machinery. These diverse types of cargo require appropriate shipping methods for safe and timely delivery. The shipping industry offers multiple options, including break bulk, to cater to different needs and make general cargo a linchpin of global trade.