Blank Sailing

A blank sailing, or void sailing, is when a scheduled vessel service will not operate on a specific route or skip a particular port or region. This can be due to a lack of cargo demand, insufficient capacity, changes in port rotation, or other operational considerations.

Blank sailings can significantly impact shippers and their supply chains, as they may cause delays or higher costs due to the need for alternative arrangements.


Why Does Blank Sailing Occur?


Blank sailing, where a shipping company cancels a scheduled voyage, leaving shipments delayed and supply chains disrupted, occurs for several strategic and operational reasons. Understanding these reasons can help businesses and logistics professionals better anticipate disruptions and devise contingency plans. Here are the top reasons blank sailing occurs:


  • Demand Fluctuations: One of the primary reasons for blank sailing is the mismatch between supply and demand. During periods of low demand, shipping companies may cancel voyages to avoid sailing with underutilized vessels, which is not cost-effective. This often happens in response to seasonal demand fluctuations, economic downturns, or unexpected drops in trade volumes.
  • Operational Efficiency: In order to optimize operations and save on costs, carriers might cancel certain sailings. This can be part of a strategy to consolidate cargo onto fewer ships, thus running fuller vessels rather than operating multiple underutilized ones. Efficiency measures like these help carriers manage their operational costs better.
  • Port Congestion: Significant congestion at ports can lead to delays and operational challenges. In order to avoid these bottlenecks, carriers might opt for blank sailings on routes leading to congested ports. This decision is often taken to maintain schedule reliability across the rest of their network and avoid the domino effect of delays.
  • Equipment Repositioning: Shipping lines sometimes cancel sailings to reposition their containers and vessels strategically across different regions. This repositioning is crucial for maintaining the balance of equipment where it is most needed, especially to meet future demand or to address current imbalances in trade flows.
  • External Factors and Disruptions: Events such as natural disasters, geopolitical tensions, strikes, and health crises (like the COVID-19 pandemic) can lead to sudden blank sailings. These situations might disrupt port operations or lead to sudden drops in demand, compelling carriers to adjust their schedules accordingly.
  • Maintenance and Upgrades: Occasionally, vessels are pulled from rotation for routine maintenance, repairs, or upgrades. During these periods, carriers might cancel sailings instead of substituting another vessel, particularly if demand is low or other operational factors come into play. 


Frequently Asked Questions about Blank Sailing


The following is a list of frequently asked questions about blank sailing.


How Does Blank Sailing Impact Business?

Blank sailing poses significant challenges for businesses reliant on shipping services, impacting various aspects of their operations and supply chains. The most significant consequence is the disruption of supply chains, leading to delayed shipments and potential stock shortages or excess inventory. 

Under these circumstances, maintaining inventory levels may become a challenge, thus calling for careful planning to avoid stockouts or overstock situations. Additionally, blank sailings often result in increased shipping costs as tighter capacity drives up rates, while businesses may have to pay additional expenses for storage, handling, and port charges due to delays.

Operationally, replanning and rescheduling shipments, finding alternative carriers, and rerouting goods add complexity and inefficiency. Financially, cash flow disruptions and contractual penalties for failing to meet obligations further strain businesses. Moreover, customer satisfaction and reputation suffer from delays in order fulfillment and communication challenges, impacting relationships with both suppliers and customers. 

To address these challenges, business owners can choose to adopt strategies like diversifying shipping options, maintaining higher safety stock levels, and investing in supply chain visibility tools to navigate the uncertainties posed by blank sailing effectively. It is important to note that most of these strategies can be achieved with the help of a trusted freight forwarder.


How are Detention and Demurrage Related to Blank Sailing? 

Detention and demurrage charges are intricately related to blank sailing due to the delays and disruptions that blank sailings often cause within the shipping process. Blank sailing, the cancellation of a ship’s voyage by the carrier, throws off scheduled cargo movements, leading to potential delays throughout the supply chain.

These disruptions can result in containers remaining at the port or on the terminal longer than initially planned. When this happens, demurrage charges may occur if containers occupy space within the terminal past the allotted free time. Additionally, delays caused by blank sailings can make it difficult to return empty containers to the carrier on schedule.

This leads to detention charges when a container is kept outside the terminal beyond its free time allocation.


What’s the Difference Between Blank Sailing and a Dry Run in International Shipping?

Blank sailing and dry run are terms that refer to disruptions in the shipping and logistics industry but in different contexts. Blank sailing happens when a shipping line cancels a vessel’s scheduled trip, often due to operational strategies, low demand, or port congestion. This can lead to logistical challenges for shippers, requiring them to seek alternative transportation options, potentially at higher costs or with delays.

A dry run, while often associated with trucking, can apply to various transport modes and describes a scenario where a vehicle makes a trip without transporting any cargo, usually due to issues like port congestion or cargo not being ready for pickup. Although no goods are moved, charges may still apply for the attempted service, impacting logistics costs.

Both situations underscore the importance of adaptive logistics planning and the potential for increased costs and complexities within the supply chain.


How Can I Stay Informed About Potential Blank Sailings? 

The first step is to ensure that there is communication between you and the shipping carriers. By regularly contacting carrier representatives or subscribing to carrier newsletters and alerts, businesses can receive advance notice of schedule changes, including blank sailings.

Generally, but still relevant, staying informed about shipping industry developments through industry publications, news websites, and trade journals can provide your business with valuable insights into global shipping trends and operational changes within major shipping lines, which may also include announcements regarding blank sailings.

Despite all these possibilities, most business owners simply want their cargo to be delivered on time and do not have the time to deal with or communicate with different carriers or deal with the complexities of international shipping. In light of this, working closely with a freight forwarder allows access to comprehensive market intelligence and real-time information on shipping schedules, as forwarders tend to keep close communications with carriers.

This can be leveraged to your advantage when they orchestrate and handle the movement of your goods. Using their expertise enables businesses to receive proactive updates and insights into potential blank sailings that may impact shipments and, most importantly, to respond to these circumstances. 


How Do Freight Forwarders Assist in Navigating the Challenges of Blank Sailings?

Freight forwarders are vital partners in the global shipping industry, offering invaluable support to businesses facing the uncertainties of blank sailings. These are instances when a carrier cancels a scheduled voyage, which can disrupt supply chains and necessitate quick adjustments. Here’s a general overview of how freight forwarders can assist in such situations:


  • Alternative Shipping Options: They explore and suggest alternative routes or shipping methods to ensure that goods continue on their journey with minimal disruption. This might include switching to different carriers or modes of transportation that are less affected by blank sailings.
  • Risk Management: Freight forwarders use their knowledge of the shipping industry to help businesses anticipate and mitigate the risks associated with blank sailings. This proactive approach can include developing contingency plans that keep supply chains flexible and resilient.
  • Industry Insights: By leveraging their relationships with carriers and understanding the shipping process, freight forwarders can offer valuable advice and help manage the challenges of blank sailings. 
  • Cost Management: By identifying the most cost-effective alternatives in the face of blank sailings, freight forwarders can help minimize the financial impact. This could involve negotiating rates with carriers or suggesting adjustments to shipping schedules to avoid higher costs associated with delays or rerouting.

Freight forwarders, with their expertise and resources, play a key role in helping businesses navigate the challenges posed by blank sailings. Their support can be instrumental in keeping supply chains moving efficiently, even when faced with unexpected disruptions.


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