Perspective On The Current Shipping Container Smurf-Up


On Sept. 14, we wrote a short article called "Where's The Stuff?" that outlined the shipping container fiasco that has been developing on the West Coast.  At the time, there were about 30 container ships floating, unable to unload their cargo.  Today, at the end of October, there are 61 container ships floating off the coast, waiting to land their cargo. Let's put that volume of cargo in a perspective that music folks can relate to.

Each ship carries 13,500 40' containers.   So, 61 ships are holding 823,500 containers.   823,500 of anything is a lot, but it still doesn't tell us much about the quantity of cargo they are holding at float.     

I have been told by three different manufacturers that one 40' container box can hold about 2,000 electric guitars.  The actual number varied between 1,986 and 2,036, but on average, 2,000 is a pretty reliable number.  (Acoustic guitars would be around 60-65% of that number.)

For the sake of illustration, let's say all 823,500 of those floating containers are filled with electric guitars. They're not, but let's pretend for the moment that they are.   The math says that 823,500 X 2,000 = 1,647,000,000.  If you notice where the commas are, you'll see that the volume of stuff floating off the west coast, waiting to be unloaded, is the equivalent of 1.647 TRILLION electric guitars.  

Of course, only a small percentage of what's floating is actually guitars.  And, most of what is waiting to be unloaded is much smaller than a guitar.   So, it's safe to say there are many trillions of items stuck in the 61 container ships waiting to unload in Long Beach and other California ports.   We also have ships waiting to unload on the east coast and on the Gulf coast, so the actual number of stalled products is much higher than that.

And that, my friends, is why the shipping container bottleneck is such as big deal.


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