Watch Now


Your user-friendly guide to understanding SONAR’s Container Atlas

FreightWaves’ newest addition to SONAR takes maritime data a step further; here is how to use it.

(Photo: Jim Allen FreightWaves)

FreightWaves’ latest SONAR product raises the bar on maritime data around the globe.

Container Atlas made its debut during last week’s Future Of Supply Chain event in Rogers, Arkansas, adding an important layer to the industry’s most accurate and user-friendly tool that measures ocean shipping’s volatile import/export markets.

Here’s a user guide to get the most out of Container Atlas.

Ocean Container Rates

The latest release functions similar to the market dashboard in TRAC, the most up-to-date trucking spot rate data, also found within SONAR. The only difference is its source of information and design.

Drawing data from Freightos’ Baltic Daily Index and the Drewry Container Index, Container Atlas gives real-time visibility to spot rates per 40 foot equivalent unit (FEU) from any major origin port and destination. 


It starts with the Ocean Container Rates tab. The origin and destination is where this dashboard differs from truckload data. Users can sort by either origin port or country. The same goes for the destination side, with 95 selections for either end of the equation. The calendar view differs as well, with rates available from the previous five years.


Thus, it enables either ocean freight carriers or forwarders to view and decide in which lanes to steer towards (pun intended).

In relation to truckload spot rates, the same applies for maritime, given that rates are the end result of the supply and demand equation. As volume declines, pressure is put on the capacity side, causing spot rates to react.

Navigating to the next tab for the heartbeat of all of Container Atlas’ information is a simple click away onto Supply/Demand.

Once you reach this page, a list of graphs appears. At first it can all look intimidating, but don’t worry — we’re going to go through this together.

Ocean TEU Volume Index

The first chart is labeled Ocean TEU Volume Index, and it is just what it sounds like: an index to measure accepted ocean TEU volume. What is a TEU? Similar to the FEU, this is a measure of 20-foot containers or “equivalents.”

The chart history for this page, unlike the container rates, dates back to January 2019. Selecting a date range of roughly six months always makes the most sense so as not to overload with data but to get enough to base decisions off of a bit of recent history.

If any major port disruption caused a halt in volume, the numbers would be reflected in this chart, as it provides daily updated information, seven days a week.

Ocean Booking Volume Index

Second is the Ocean Booking Volume Index. This chart presents the booking data ahead of time based on the dates. This index measures the overall volume that is booked without factoring in which shipments will be rejected or accepted. 

The booking volume index and the TEU volume index move almost in direct correlation with each other. As fewer loads are being booked, fewer are being accepted and vice versa. This will be helpful for carriers and forwarders that want to analyze volume levels in various markets ahead of time.

TEU Rejection Index

Below those we have the TEU Rejection Index, showing us the booking volume minus the accepted volume. These are all the loads that will ultimately need to wait to be loaded onto a vessel. Rejections typically happen for one of two reasons: 1) lack of equipment, and 2) lack of vessel space. This useful volume indicator gives visibility into vessel capacity.

Ocean TEU Vessel Capacity

Which takes us right into our next chart: Ocean TEU Vessel Capacity. This chart reflects the volume side of the equation and represents a 7-day moving average of the overall space (capacity) on vessels moving between origin and destination.

For example, today (May 18) vessel capacity shows 34.5 million available spaces for TEUs, an increase from recent weeks. This means that additional vessels are being voyaged, which then unload to free up space for more freight to be moved.

Ocean TEU Transit Time

Ocean TEU Transit Time is a measure of the time from when vessels are loaded and departing the loading port to when they arrive at the port of discharge. Transit times posted by carriers fluctuate regularly to set expectation levels of service for shippers and receivers. To avoid being hit with service charges, a carrier does not want to commit to an 18-day transit time when it may be closer to 26 days.

Project44 Ocean Port Pair Delays

The next chart first appears blank, but if the filters are set port to port, it fills in automatically. Project44 Ocean Port Pair Delays is the number of days after the committed transit times that a vessel will arrive at the port of discharge.

So, if a carrier initially notifies transit times to be 24 days but then encounters any issues along the route, this chart will give insight to the accurate calculation of total transit days until the arrival in the port of discharge. This becomes very useful for shippers to gauge lead times when booking their freight, which takes us right into our next chart.

Ocean TEU Booking Lead Times

Ocean TEU Booking Lead Times reflect the space that has officially been allocated to hold the confirmed TEUs for shipment. The data shows the time (in days) between when shippers originally book the freight and when it will actually be loaded onto a vessel for departure.

From China to the U.S., booking lead times are currently at a historic low, revealing the increased volatility and uncertainty of the market. Shippers are not able to take the risk of shipments being late, which typically means they book as early as possible.

Import Manifest Intelligence

The third tab on the right is our final stop. Import Manifest Intelligence is a look into the complete number of TEUs that have been cleared through customs and actually brought into the U.S.

It is important to note that the volume being shipped compared to the volume actually being cleared to import can be very different.

Therefore, this can be a great tool for surface transportation companies that want to view the actual number of containers being unloaded at their nearest port.

Corey Smith

Corey is a staff writer for FreightWaves with experience in air, intermodal and parcel operations, as well as LTL and full truckload transportation management. He is a graduate of the University of Memphis, majoring in supply chain management, and enjoys basketball, cinema and traveling.