Practical ways to track your cargo

It is a known fact that people are shipping cargo every day. These shipments are often traveling across the planet, so there is a push to improve and develop various global forwarding methods. There is a need for them to be fast as well as safe. Just think – how many times have you ordered something online only to impatiently wait for it to arrive for a week or two? So, in order for you not to fret about the delivery of your cargo, you can learn how to track it. In this article, read up on the practical ways to track your cargo wherever it is in the world!

Personal tracking

This one might seem a bit odd, but tracking your cargo personally is still a possibility. Simply put, there are some items that you just need to follow on their journey. They are either very valuable or very important to you, or they might need your constant supervision and care. So you can decide to get your plane ticket (if you are going for aerial transport) and follow your package.

If the volume of the cargo is large, or you need cheaper shipping, you can also decide on sea transport. And, believe it or not, you can still jump on the ocean-going container ship to follow your cargo. This experience comes with no luxuries, however – there are low comfort levels on these ships. What’s more, the tickets can be quite pricey – they can get over $100 per day. Since these ships can travel up to a month, this can be quite an expensive way to travel. Not only that, but it is also a quite time-consuming activity too!

Track your cargo via GPS tracking

A phone - which can use GPS which you will use to track your cargo.
Use GPS to track your cargo.

If you don’t feel like taking a long voyage with your cargo, you can always invest in a GPS tracker. Compared to the first option, this is cheaper. A tracker clocks at around $200-250, and they let you watch how your cargo moves basically in real time. However, to install it, you need access to your cargo this before it begins its voyage.

Another catch is that the tracker can get damaged during the voyage. You can’t control it during this period. If the antenna, or any other valuable part of the tracker, breaks, there isn’t much you can do about it. Then, if the shipments are delayed, you are working with the risk of battery simply dying. After that, the signal will completely die and you will have no clue what’s happening to your cargo. On aerial cargo transport, this might not be the case because of its speed, but when shipping by sea anything can happen.

Track your cargo using the live satellite imagery

Another way in which you can track cargo is by getting information on which ship it is on. After that, you can pay for satellite imagery. This will allow you to simply track the ship as it goes across the ocean. However, as you can notice, this option is quite unconventional. There are many things that can go wrong. If the ship runs into some bad weather you will lose it easily. Then, if the ship needs to change its course, you can lose it just as well. Finally, with the prices for this services going into hundreds and hundreds of dollars, this might not be the best way for you to track your cargo.

A satellite.
Track your packages from space!


Various container tracking services

Would you believe that each standard intermodal container unit has their own version of an ID card? Well, it’s true, and it’s one of the ways in which you can track your cargo! This is called ISO 6346 International Shipping Container Standard Information reporting mark. And the good news is that you can track and monitor this easily. You can do it at almost every freight terminal that your cargo goes through during its travels.

Containers on a ship.
There are various ways to track containers.

Of course, there is always a catch. This is useful only for learning about the terminals your cargo has passed. It is not live tracking or GPS. For example, your cargo will leave Japan and you will get the information about it. After a few weeks, you will see that it stopped in a European country and left for the States. Once it arrives in a States’ terminal, you will be able to see that too. The drawback is that you cannot track it while the cargo is on the move. Whether it is traveling by rail, road or sea – you won’t know where it is until it passes a terminal.

Some air or sea forwarders will offer you the option to track the cargo for you. However, this usually revolves around satellite imagery (at least for ships). They will track the whole vessel instead of just your container. Even if a company offers it, however, this might not be the most reliable way. The feed might be a bit late, or the accuracy of the tracking information not complete. This is why it’s important to always get cargo shipping insurance when shipping long distance.

AIS vessel tracking

Finally, there is what is known as AIS (Automatic Identification System) tracking. There is a whole explanation on how this works, but we will try to keep it simple. Basically, there are small transponders in shipping vessels worldwide. These broadcast their location, and a network of receivers collects it. Then, this network can aggregate this information to create an almost-real-time image of the shipping traffic on the global scale.

All you need for this method is to know the IMO number or the name of the vessel that you are using. Find an AIS maritime tracking intelligence provider and they will do this job for you. They will even offer to estimate the time of arrival at the port, and you can set up notifications about what is happening to the ship during its travels.


To conclude, there are multiple ways in which you can track your cargo. Whether you are using reputable air freight forwarders or sea freight forwarders, you can keep your cargo in check. You only need to be creative and resourceful.

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