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What Is Shipment Tracking ETA?

To understand the freight industry, you will need to familiarize yourself with several key terms used by shippers, carriers and other organizations. 

When conducting business with shippers and carriers, some of the most important terminology that you will encounter deals with freight tracking. While all of these terms are important to know, one of the most essential is the estimated time to arrival or shipping ETA.

ETA shipping data reveals the projected arrival date of your shipment. Tracking shipments using ETA information will help you more effectively manage your inventory and service your clients. 

Below, you can explore the ins and outs of ETA data as it pertains to tracking shipments. Keep reading for a breakdown of other shipment tracking terminology like ETD so that you can better understand your supply chain. Let’s get started.

How Does Shipment Tracking ETA Work?

Despite its name, shipment tracking ETA data usually does not provide arrival time but rather the estimated arrival date. Cargo ships can encounter a broad range of delays at the point of origin, while traversing the open ocean and upon arriving at the receiving port. 

In light of this, you should treat shipment tracking ETAs as general estimates that are subject to change without notice. Carriers, freight forwarding agencies and third-party logistics partners are not bound by these ETAs. 

Instead, this information is provided as a courtesy to help you better manage your inventory. With that being said, a reliable carrier will make deliveries by the listed ETA more often than not. 

Why Is an ETA Important?

Shipment tracking ETAs are important for several reasons. First, this data will help you perform accurate inventory forecasting. In turn, you can use these forecasts to adjust your ordering habits and ensure that you have an adequate amount of goods in stock to meet future consumer demand.

In addition, shipment tracking ETA information will help you better serve your customers. Modern consumers expect short turnaround times and lightning-fast deliveries when they place online orders. 

If you have not used ETA data to properly manage your inventory, you might not be able to get products in the hands of consumers fast enough. Over time, this can damage your brand’s reputation and hurt your bottom line. 

Where Can I Find the ETA of a Shipment?

When you book shipping services with an ocean carrier, it will send you a confirmation. This confirmation document will include a wealth of vital information about your order, including shipment tracking ETA data. 

In addition to listing an ETA, the confirmation sheet should also include the type of equipment that the carrier is using to ship your order, the route the ship will take, and the expected date of departure (ETD). 

How Is an ETA Calculated?

When calculating ETA, carriers must account for a multitude of variables, which can be grouped into two broad categories:

Shore Side Factors

This set of variables includes conditions that might delay a ship’s departure. A few examples include labor issues, loading equipment malfunctions, congestion at the port, and infrastructure challenges.

Ship-Related Factors 

These factors primarily include failures of the ship’s operating equipment and weather-related delays.

When issuing the original shipment tracking ETA information, the carrier will account for all of the factors mentioned above. Naturally, some new issues might arise after the ship has departed the point of origin. When this occurs, the carrier will provide you with an updated ETA. 

Understanding Shipment Tracking ETA

Let’s take a closer look at some terms related to shipping ETAs: 

Booking Confirmation

The booking confirmation documents are forms you will receive after scheduling your shipment. Booking confirmation documents will explain whether your cargo is being transported in a container or on a pallet. These forms will also include ETA, ETD and the projected lead time of your delivery.

Lead Time

Lead time refers to the total number of days it will take the cargo ship to arrive at its destination once it has left port. For instance, if you place an order and are told that it will take ten days for the ship to arrive, then your lead time is ten days. Lead times help you determine when to order more inventory so that you can avoid stockouts. 

Live Tracking

In the past, shipping companies would provide ETA updates when a ship reached pre-determined checkpoints on its journey to the drop-off location. Unfortunately, clients could not receive updates when a ship was between checkpoints. 

This antiquated method of monitoring ETA accuracy has been replaced by live tracking. Now shipping companies can update clients as soon as a delay is detected via real-time tracking capabilities. 


Forecasting allows you to better account for unexpected shipping delays. You can use this data to alter your ordering schedule and reduce the risk of encountering inventory shortages. 


ETA and ETD are essentially opposites. Whereas ETA describes a ship’s projected arrival time, ETD reveals when the vessel is expected to depart its current port. Both pieces of information are important for inventory management and forecasting purposes. 

Remember, when you place an order, the cargo vessel is not necessarily going to depart the very next day. In fact, the ship may be at the port for several days after your order is loaded. This wait time is reflected in your ETD. 

To determine when your shipment will arrive, you will need to add both the ETD and ETA. If your ETD is three days and your ETA is ten days, your total lead time is 13 days. 

How To Apply Shipment Tracking ETA Data

Using the above information, you can now more accurately estimate when your shipments will arrive. These estimates can assist with inventory management and forecasting. Ultimately, effective forecasting and inventory management practices will help you better serve your clients and protect cash flow. 

If you would like to learn more about logistics and supply chain topics, explore the extensive FreightWaves Ratings content library.

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