Ask any logistics professional, and they’ll tell you how this industry is packed to the brim with jargon. Whether it’s a never-ending list of acronyms or terms that are tossed around casually, there’s a lot to learn about talking the talk of the logistics industry.
One of the terms that we discuss frequently is “blank sailings.” Although it’s a concept that a lot of the industry is familiar with, for anyone breaking into a new field or trying to get a grip on supply chains, it’s something that can be a little hard to pin down. If that sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right blog.
What is Blank Sailing?
Blank sailings happen when a shipping carrier decides to skip a port or an entire voyage of a scheduled sailing route. This is often done for a variety of reasons, like reducing capacity, stabilizing freight rates, or raising rates. Since the pandemic started, the number of blank sailings has increased significantly because carriers have a fixed number of days to complete their sailing schedules and return to the base. Each port has a specific timetable for loading and unloading cargo. That means if a vessel runs late at a previous port, the shipping line may decide to cancel the next port call altogether to avoid further delays.
This process can cause headaches for shippers and receivers alike. Containers that were meant to be loaded or unloaded at the canceled port will have to wait until the next vessel—with the same destination—arrives. This can result in rising demurrage and detention charges, making container shipping more expensive.
What Causes Blank Sailings?
Blank sailings can happen for a few different reasons.
When there’s low demand for container space, it’s common practice to skip a port or an entire voyage. This helps carriers consolidate shipments from multiple vessels and make their operations more efficient.
If rates begin to fluctuate, carriers often consolidate shipments from multiple vessels or cancel previously scheduled sailings in an effort to make their operations run more smoothly and be more cost-effective. This can either stabilize or increase rates. Carriers often follow these steps after holiday seasons, like Chinese New Year and Golden Week.
Port congestion can cause unexpected delays. Shipping lines sometimes find it easier to skip a certain port rather than risk further delays, making blank sailings a common practice.
Some mechanical problems with ships can only be fixed at specific ports, causing a delay in the scheduled sailing. To keep up with the schedule, carriers may choose to avoid a port or take a different, more urgent route.
Similar to port congestion, port strikes and labor unrest can impact operations and delay vessel birthing and other services at ports.
Blank sailings may also occur due to bad weather conditions like tropical storms. To ensure safety, ships may cancel their trips to affected regions or wait until it’s safe to berth and sail again. Although this can delay the schedule, it’s a necessary precaution to avoid potential risks.
Mitigating the Impact on Your Business
Blank sailings can have significant impacts on logistics. They can lead to disruptions and delays, decreased storage space, additional charges for demurrage and detention, production and customer dissatisfaction, and minimized market standing for ocean carriers. However, they are often necessary changes or standard operations that carriers utilize to mitigate the factors we listed above.
While blank sailings are an unavoidable part of the shipping industry, there are steps that can mitigate their impacts. Planning ahead and having a crisis management strategy in place can help organizations navigate these obstacles. An effective forecast and transparent communication strategy, along with safety stock and backup transportation can help organizations anticipate and respond to blank sailing events. These efforts can also further minimize the impact blank sailings have on supply chain and market commitments.
If you have any questions about blank sailings or how to navigate these market changes, we can help. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of experts.