Matson: a pioneer in refrigerated containers

Matson has a long history with refrigerated container shipping in the Pacific. Its innovative handling of refrigerated cargo began in 1900 and its spirit of continual improvement has resulted in one of the best refrigerated container systems in the shipping industry. Careful consideration of customers’ needs resulted in the following standard features:

  • Temperature control to within less than one degree
    Precise control for transporting extremely temperature-sensitive cargo such as pharmaceuticals
  • Availability of Modified Atmospheres to limit cargo respiration rate
    Reduces or eliminates the presence of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and /or oxygen to reduce or eliminate spoilage from interaction with these gases; single insertion of atmosphere at time of loading; most effective for short-duration voyages
  • The use of substitute atmospheres for Controlled Atmosphere applications
    Further retards ripening by maintaining a substitute atmosphere for the duration of the voyage
  • The most advanced sealing techniques are used to construct and test our refrigerated containers
    Matson’s refrigerated containers minimize the loss of atmosphere during transit—and Controlled Atmosphere systems maintain the selected atmosphere during transit until the container is opened
  • Special design to minimize tare weight
    Content weight can be maximized on inland transportation
  • Length and height choices to accommodate a variety of needs
    Several container lengths and two heights provide a selection of total cargo capacity choices depending on the type of cargo and packing density desired
  • Motor- generators for inland shipping where no other power is available
    Temperature control continues during Port to Door inland transportation
  • Remote reefer monitoring
    On-board operators can check refrigerated container conditions using an on-board PC:

    • Temperature
    • Action Required alerts
    • Upload a long-term history of unit temperature

These features are all designed to provide the highest level of refrigerated product quality and integrity, and maximum payload during transit, whether ocean transit or inland trucking to the final destination.

Temperature Controlbacktop

Modern refrigerated containers combine maximum capacity and airflow with pinpoint temperature control to deliver uniform protection throughout the load. Matson’s units can control the temperature within a degree of the initial temperature setting (a critical requirement for pharmaceutical shipments, for example). There are also “dual-zone” units available which allow two different levels of chilling in the same container.

Atmosphere Modificationbacktop

Matson owns specially built and equipped containers for Modified Atmosphere (MA) and Controlled Atmosphere (CA) applications. This equipment is built with ports on the front of the containers to facilitate the efficient flow of specific atmosphere gases to enter into the container while forcing the oxygen and other present gases out.

Modified Atmosphere (MA)

All refrigerated products require protection from heat, cold or certain gases, including oxygen, to impede deterioration of the goods and chemical reactions with gases. At the shipper’s request, Matson can arrange for one of several leading technology companies to provide Modified Atmosphere inside our container at the port of origin.

Controlled Atmosphere (CA)

For longer transit times, a Controlled Atmosphere maintains a constant level of a substitute atmosphere throughout the transit to slow the natural ripening process. This allows produce to be loaded into containers closer to the sail date allowing produce to ripen longer in the field, making them higher in value at destination. Controlled Atmosphere is another product available from leading technology companies that will be inserted into our specially designed containers at the port of origin.

Learn more about our Atmosphere Modification Service Provider procedures out of Oakland and Long Beach.

Overview – Temperature Controlled Containers backtop

Matson offers 40-foot and 20-foot refrigerated containers to meet the needs of our customers shipping across the Pacific. The equipment is capable of handling chilled and frozen cargo across the Pacific to protect the integrity and quality of the goods.

In addition to our expansive container inventory, Matson has a large, diversified chassis inventory to meet customer needs (excluding Naha and China services). Chassis designs include standard fixed chassis, specialized sliding axle chassis, and specialized tri-axle chassis. The latter two designs increase the weight that may be transported over roads.

See the specific refrigerated container sizes below for each service.

Reefer Power and Generator Setsbacktop

Most Matson reefers are dual voltage, thereby saving the cost of separate, dual-voltage transformers mounted at the shipper’s facility.

While our equipment is in transit between the port and the customer’s facility, depending on the commodity and distance traveled, power for the reefers can be provided by Matson’s chassis-mounted, under-slung, diesel-powered generators which provide 220 / 440-volt, three-phase electric power when away from a normal power source. Motor generators add weight to the container and chassis and this additional weight must be factored into the loading of the container in order to be compliant with over-the-road weight limitations.

Pre-Trip Reviewbacktop

All of Matson’s equipment goes through a process of cleaning and calibrating after we receive the equipment back from our customers. This process, also known as a Pre-Trip, is completed after each movement of freight and before the equipment leaves the terminal for the loading of a new shipment. The calibration is a process that entails a check of the unit to determine that it is in good working order. When this process is completed, the unit is set at a standard temperature of 35 degrees.

Temperature Setting & Motor Generating Operating Instructionsbacktop

Genset Starting Instructions

Before start-up, both the Genset Circuit Breaker (CB1) and the refrigerated unit should be OFF. After start-up, the Genset unit should be run for at least two minutes to allow the power source to stabilize before supplying power to the refrigerated unit. This will eliminate the potential of any cold start transient spikes from reaching the refrigerated unit. Cold start transient spikes can potentially cause nuisance overvoltage alarms on refrigerated units that are sensitive to electrical spikes or transients.


  • Beware of moving poly V-belt, belt-driven components, and hot exhaust components.
  • Under no circumstances should ether or any other unauthorized starting aids be used in conjunction with the air intake heater.


Piston rings in engines that have operated less than 100 hours may not be fully seated. This may lead to the possibility of oil seepage from the exhaust pipe. To properly seat the rings, operate the engine under full load for a period of 24 hours. If the condition persists, check valve clearance when the engine is cold.

Instructions for Standard Units

  • Make sure that Circuit Breaker CB-1 is in the OFF position.
  • Hook up the 460-volt cable from the refrigerated unit to the Genset receptacle.
  • Hold the Intake Heater Switch (HS) in the PREHEAT position. Suggested hold times for a cold engine are as follows:
Ambient Temperature Time
26°C (78°F) 5 seconds
0 to 26°C (32 to 78°F) 10 seconds
-8 to 26°C (18 to 32°F) 20 seconds
Below -8°C (8°F) 30 seconds
  • With the Intake Heater Switch (HS) held in the PREHEAT position, place the Ignition Switch (IGN) in the START position.
  • After the engine has started, continue to hold the Intake Heater Switch (HS) in the PREHEAT position until the engine develops sufficient oil pressure to close the Oil Pressure Safety Switch (approximately 5 seconds). When released, the Intake Heater Switch (HS) will automatically return to the OFF position and the heater will remain energized for 3 minutes.

Instructions for Units with Auto Start

  • Make sure that Circuit Breaker CB-1 is in the OFF position.
  • Hook up the 460-volt cable from the refrigerated unit to the Genset receptacle.
  • Place the Ignition Switch (IGN) in the RUN position.
  • If the Low Coolant Sensor (LCS) is immersed in coolant, the Auto Restart Module will energize the heater for 30 seconds and the safety buzzer will sound. After the 30 second delay, the unit will attempt to start.

Post-Start Inspection

  • Allow the Genset unit to run for at least 2 minutes.
  • Turn on Circuit Breaker CB-1.
  • Check generator output with a volt meter, voltage output at startup with no load at 50Hz operation should be 1500 RPM, 360-460 VAC. Voltage output may vary and fall with ISO specifications based on ambient.
  • Start the refrigeration unit.
  • Run the engine for 10 minutes (check total time meter operation).
  • Listen for abnormal bearing noise (AC generator).
  • Check the fuel lines, lube oil lines, and filters for leaks.
  • Check the exhaust system for leaks.

Stopping Instructions

  • Place Circuit Breaker CB-1 in the OFF position.
  • Place the Ignition Switch (IGN) in the OFF position.


Reefer Instructions

Connect Power


  • Do not attempt to remove power plug(s) before turning OFF the Start-Stop switch (ST), unit circuit breaker(s), and an external power source.
  • Make sure the power plugs are clean and dry before connecting to the power receptacle.

Connecting to 380/460 VAC Power

  • Make sure the Start-Stop switch (ST), located on the control panel, is in “0” position (Off).
  • Make sure circuit breaker CB-1, located in the control box, is in “0” position (Off).
  • Plug the 460 VAC (yellow) cable into a de-energized 380/460 VAC, 3-phase power source, and energize the power source.
  • Place circuit breaker CB-1 in “I” position (On).
  • Close and secure the control box door.

Connecting to 190/230 VAC Power

To allow unit operation on nominal 230-volt power, an autotransformer is required. The autotransformer is fitted with a 230 VAC cable and a receptacle to accept the standard 460 VAC power plug. The 230-volt cable is black in color while the 460-volt cable is yellow. The transformer may also be equipped with a circuit breaker (CB-2). The transformer is a step-up transformer that provides 380/460 VAC, 3-phase, 50/60 Hz power to the unit when the 230 VAC power cable is connected to a 190/230 VAC, 3-phase power source.


  • Make sure the Start-Stop switch (ST), located on the control panel, is in “0” position (Off).
  • Make sure circuit breaker CB-1, located in the control box, and CB-2, located on the transformer, are both in “0” position (Off).
  • Plugin and lock the 460 VAC power plug at the receptacle on the transformer.
  • Plug the 230 VAC (black) cable into a de-energized 190/230 VAC, 3-phase power source, and energize the power source.
  • Set circuit breakers CB-1 and CB-2 to “I” position (On).
  • Close and secure the control box door.

For questions and concerns please contact our Customer Service Center Refrigerated Group 1-800-662-8766.

Customer Servicebacktop

In order to meet the requirements of our customer’s shipping temperature-sensitive cargo, Matson has put into place a national sales and customer service team to cater to customers shipping refrigerated containers. Our National Refrigerated Cargo Sales Team is available to support customers across the mainland and throughout the islands. For Sales or Customer Support, please call 1-800-9-MATSON

Additional Information: U.C. Davis Postharvest Technology, Research and Information Centerbacktop

The following reference is provided for the benefit of our shippers and consignees. Matson has not independently confirmed this information and has no liability for any errors or omissions with respect to this data. Matson will abide by the shipper’s instruction as to the temperature setting for all refrigerated shipments even if it differs from the information provided herein and will have no liability for loss or damage caused by following the shipper’s instruction.

U.C. Davis Postharvest Technology, Research and Information Center