International Freight Forwarder and Customs Broker Based in China

The Impact of Seasonal Changes on Ocean Freight Rates

Table of Contents

Ocean freight shipping is a crucial element of global trade, allowing goods to be moved seamlessly across continents and borders. It’s significance cannot be undermined as 80% of goods are shipped by this means, promoting high-volume trade.

There are several factors that you must weigh in when considering ocean freight rates. Whether it is the fuel prices or the geopolitical aspects or the capacity of a vessel, global trade prices are significantly impacted by these factors. One aspect that is often neglected in this regard is the role of seasonal changes. Yes, the unpredictable weather conditions that force you to change routes or the peak holiday seasons when the demand is high — these factors influence the pace and cost of shipping.


Understanding Ocean Freight Rates


The cost of ocean freight shipping is dependent on various components. Let’s elaborate on that further:


Base Freight Rates


Also understood as the most integral part of costing — this is the base price of transporting your goods from one port to another. The price is established on “per container” or “per weight unit.”


Surcharges or Additional Fees


These can include the port fees or extra out-of-pocket charges to meet peak season requirements.


Fuel Cost and Bunker Adjustment


The global fuel market prices significantly affect ocean freight shipping rates. The Bunker Adjustment Fees is often influenced by the constantly fluctuating fuel prices across the world.


Factors Impacting Ocean Freight Shipment Rates


1. The Supply and Demand Flux

The global trade market is shaped by supply and demand, and ocean freight shipping is no alien to this instrumental factor. Thus, it is important to understand how the rise in demand and lesser capacity of transporting goods increase the freight rates.


2. Fuel Costs

Fuel is an integral part of transportation, and so naturally, it reflects in your shipping cost.


3. Global Economic Conditions

World trade policies, exchange rates, and the overall GDP growth subsequently impact the ocean freight shipment rates. They are reflected in the demand and supply chain.


Overview of Seasonal Changes

Having a firm understanding of these seasonal cycles can help you navigate the subsequent fluctuations rather smoothly. The best thing to do here is to strategize better so that instead of getting shocked, you are equipped with information and have a plan already in action to handle the ever-shifting gear of global trade.


Climatic Changes

We all know the four seasons — Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. All of these seasons influence the fate of your shipment routes. And the routes and regions that have extreme weather conditions, like storms and heavy snowfall are often prone to more delays and instantaneous scheduling conflicts.

One of the most obvious examples of the impact of climatic seasons is observed in winter. The icy conditions often cause delays as the roads are jammed with snowfall and people responsible for loading and unloading are unable to reach the port. There is often a situation with icebergs that cause changes in the route.


Peak Shipping Seasons

There are some months throughout the year when there’s a sudden surge in demand causing an increase in shipment volume. Some of the examples of these seasons are the Holiday season and the Back-to-school season.

You’ve got consumer demand for goods that are commonly used during festivities or for gifting purposes. Similarly, there’s an increase in the shipment of school supplies and even clothing goods during the back-to-school season.


Agricultural Seasons and Harvest Cycles


There are certain goods that are influenced by the agricultural seasons. Their demand is met with certain deadlines, like the perishable goods. You have to ship them within a specific period or they could rot and get spoiled, like fruits and vegetables.


How Seasonal Changes Affect Ocean Freight Rates


Peak Shipping Season


Increased demand during holiday seasons (e.g., Christmas, Chinese New Year)

Christmas and the Chinese New Year is the time of the year when there’s an increase in consumer spending. To meet this demand there’s an increase in shipping activity.


Impact of freight rates to meet rising demand

The unpredictable nature of consumer spending often leads to shortage of goods and shipping capacity. This dries the ocean freight rates up the wall and the companies take this as an opportunity to capitalize.


Examples of the fluctuating rates during high-demand seasons

During peak season, many companies implement peak season surcharges to denote the heighted demand and lower capacity in ships.


Influence of Harvest Cycles on Cargo Volume


During harvest season, there’s an increase in the volume of demand for agricultural goods. Thus, you will see a spike in the transportation of these crops from the farms to the respective markets.


Seasonal Shipping of Agricultural Products

Fruits and vegetables are seasonal and have specific months when they’re harvested and grown. These seasonal patterns are also reflected in the shipping volume and cargo movements.


Impact on Freight Rates due to Seasonal Agricultural Exports

Naturally, the sudden increase in demand is capitalized and reflected in their transport and shipment prices. Due to limited capacity some of the carriers increase their rates.

Having a grasp of seasonal patterns on agricultural production can help you navigate your shipment better. It is an instrumental factor that shows you business acumen; the way you prepare and strategize freight movement and rates during peak seasons.


Effects of Adverse Weather Conditions

Hurricanes, snowfall, and storms are natural factors that can neither be controlled nor undermined. These disasters and weather conditions can disrupt your planning and you have to consider different routes to continue shipment and have it reach its final destination. These weather conditions cause your ships to change their route, face delays, and even get damaged, sometimes.


Seasonal patterns and their impact on shipping schedules

Seasonal shifts, like monsoon and winter snowfall can also disrupt your shipment planning. Although these seasons are predicted, their impact and overall disruption can never be planned. Thus, delays are inevitable.


Rate increases due to weather-related disruptions

Weather conditions cause delays in shipment as well as a spike in the prices. The costs involved in risks involved and additional fuel to match the adverse weather conditions are often a headache for traders. Thus, expect route changes, cargo damage, and other delays related to seasonal shifts.

When you have a keen understanding of how weather conditions impact shipping and cargo movement, you manage and mitigate financial damages accordingly. You plan ahead and keep a profit margin for all incidental costs.


Regional Variations in Seasonal Impact


Differences in Seasonal Effects across Major Shipping Routes:


Asia-Europe Routes: The Northern Europe and North Atlantic region usually falls prey to winter storms and icy conditions. Due to this reason, there’s often rerouting and fluctuation in delivery.

Trans-Pacific Routes: Pacific is known for its typhoon season which totally disrupts scheduling and spikes freight prices.

Intra-Asia Routes: The tropical storms of Southeast Asia are not to be undermined. When the monsoon season hits, all of the shipping operations are disrupted, causing rerouting and changes in shipping volume.


Regional holidays and events affecting freight rates


Golden week in China:The Golden Week in China is celebrated in October. During this time, consumer spending is off the roof, causing an increase in demand, and a fluctuation in the overall demand and supply chain. This also influences the cost.

Diwali in India:This festive season in India causes a spike in consumer spending, causing heighted shipment and a rise in freight rates.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday:The ThanksGiving season and other shopping events impact the demand and supply chain. The rise in online orders also contributes to the fluctuation in shipments and subsequently their rates.


Strategies for Managing Seasonal Rate Fluctuations


Planning and Forecasting


Importance of accurate demand forecasting

Planning and strategizing your shipping routes in advance can help you reduce the impact of shipment of your goods. Thus, it is important to accurately predict these changes so as to avoid paying additional costs or facing delays.


Planning shipments in advance to avoid peak season surcharges

The best way to prepare is to plan ahead. Make bookings in advance so that you don’t have to pay peak season surcharges and other additional fees to get your container on board.


Negotiating Contracts


Long-term contracts vs. spot rates

Try to negotiate and develop long-term contracts with your shipping contractor. This way, you don’t have to pay different amounts to different contractors, each influenced by the seasonal variation.


Securing fixed rates through annual contracts

The best way to avoid paying additional amounts to contractors is by securing annual contracts. This way, you function on fixed rates and have everything documented beforehand.


Flexible Shipping Options


Exploring alternative shipping routes and methods

If the ocean freight option is not predictable for you during peak season and you absolutely cannot miss your deadline, you should consider other transportation methods, like air freight.


Utilizing less congested ports

Maybe it’s best for you to seek ports that are less congested. This way, the delays can be shortened and less time can be consumed getting goods loaded and unloaded.


Collaboration with Freight Forwarders


Leveraging the expertise of freight forwarders

The best way to continue and prolong your business is by forming associations with freight forwarders in the field. They can guide you on routes and help you predict patterns earlier. It is the best way to reduce your overall costing.


Building strong relationships for better rate negotiations

There’s no other way to say this but business is sustainable only on the basis of your relationships and negotiation skills. If you’ve got an insider, you can find out information faster and influence cost by setting cheaper rates.



The bottom line is to do your research and have an insider who can guide you not only track and predict patterns but also offer you lower prices.

Business is brutal and so are the ocean freight shipping costs – they don’t see how hard you work or how dedicated you are. What matters at the end of the day is how you plan and strategize shipping. Thus, figure out ways to reduce shipping costs.