“Blank Sailing” And What It Means For Importers

When shipping via sea freight, blank sailing is when a vessel doesn't sail. This can cause delays - and a lot of headaches.

To be perfectly blunt, blank sailing – from the perspective of an importer – sucks. It’s an annoyance at best and an additional expense alongside a bunch of hassle at worse (if it causes you to miss an important deadline).

But what is a blank sailing?

Blank Sailing Definition

A blank sailing is the term used to describe when a ship doesn’t sail; to be more specific, when there’s a cancelled sailing. A blank sailing could mean a vessel skipping one port along the route, or the entire journey being cancelled.

What this usually means for importers is that they’ll be told their goods are going to board a vessel at a particular time . . . only to then find out that the vessel isn’t even taking on goods. They’ll then have to wait for another free vessel with space for their goods – and this can be a long wait.

Why does a blank sailing happen?

There are many possible reasons for blank sailing to occur – such as cancelled docking, not enough space on a vessel, last minute route changes etc – but most commonly a blank sailing happens so that shipping lines can reduce capacity and push freight rates up. We’ve talked freight rates and their unstable nature many-a-time on our blog, so we won’t bore you with a rehash of all of the details, but when shipping lines aren’t making enough profit, they’ll hike up the freight rates.


Although the typical reason for a blank sailing is to reduce capacity and increase the rates, there are other reasons that a blank sailing could occur.

A vessel could be behind schedule and need to make up the lost time by skipping a port; the shipping lines always have the ability to pull a ship from the route in favour or another “more important” sailing. In addition to this, the ship could need to stop for repairs, or not have enough people to operate it.

We’ve already discussed a lot of the causes for delays at the port in our post about Delays In Shipping, but a blank sailing can also occur because the port your goods are at is running inefficiently for any reason (extreme congestion, not having enough people on hand, bad weather, etc.). This is because the carrier could decide that stopping at the port could delay the vessel’s journey and they aren’t willing to.

Thankfully, shipments aren’t often subject to a blank sailing – and, if yours is hit by one, we’ll make sure that we get your goods on their way as soon as possible!

If you are importing via sea freight and you want some help, feel free to contact us or get a free quote!

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