What is Container Spotting?

You’ve heard of train spotting. You’ve heard of bird spotting. You might have even heard of bus, car or sign spotting. But have you ever heard of container spotting? Hundreds of containers are shipped every day, but unless you are the owner of the container, it’s unlikely that you’re going to know what’s inside it, who owns it, and where it’s going. Some people, however, are starting to take up container spotting – the act of spotting shipping containers and identifying them by colour, size, origin country, vintage and much more.


One of the biggest questions you might have about Container Spotting is why? But the answer, really, is simple. It differs from person to person, depending on where their interests lie and what their history might be. Someone with a history in container shipping might have a particular interest in a company they used to work for, someone else might simply find satisfaction in spotting a container that is of a rare brand or colouring. The answer to the ‘why’ question is as simple as answering why bird spotters watch birds, or train spotters track trains. There is some level of satisfaction in the act no matter what that might be, and the personal choice to pursue something they’re interested in is not an unfamiliar concept.

Details to Look For.

If you want to look into container spotting for yourself, some of the details on the outside can tell you more about the origin, destination and potential contents. The longer you spend spotting, the more you’ll begin to learn about each company and their habits when it comes to shipping. Whether it’s different colours for different types of cargo or something not quite as glaringly obvious, container spotters all over the world are learning what to look for. Whether it’s the size, the origin country or the logo on the sides, the seasoned amongst spotters will be able to pick out the rare among the common. Some of the rarest and most interesting finds can find themselves featured on Intermodal Container Web Page – a page maintained by Matt Hannes.

The Container Guide.

For container spotters new and old, The Container Guide by Craig Cannon and Tim Hwang is a perfect companion and guide for spotting and identifying all kinds of containers. This pocket-sized, waterproof guide can guide you through the different containers and the corporations that own and ship them, and pulls inspiration from the traditional bird-watching guides that are so common. Hwan claims that the book appeals to “two types of infrastructure nerds” – those who are awe-struck by the scale of seaports and container shipping, and those who are far more into the data side of things, including mapping and tracking all kinds of containers and ports. The guide is a comprehensive, easy-to-understand field guide about shipping containers and the commercial world they belong to, and can be useful not only to container spotters, but to anyone who has anything to do with container shipping in their lives.