What does "Precious Cargo" Mean?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Precious means dear, important, valuable or irreplaceable, and cargo is the items carried in various containers like ships, trucks and cars. Together the idiom precious cargo has come to mean very dear things that are being carried or moved, and usually refers specifically to children. The sign "baby on board" that appears on many cars is another way of saying the car carries precious cargo.

Cargo are items carried in various containers via ship, train or airplane.
Cargo are items carried in various containers via ship, train or airplane.

The term has been used for many other things that have nothing to do with infants or children. There’s even a 2002 Star Trek: Enterprise episode called Precious Cargo which has to do with the Enterprise transporting an ill-mannered but beautiful woman, played by the famous actress and television host, Padma Lakshmi. There are a number of references to the idiom that predate this, and the cargo that is precious may be defined in numerous ways. Anything carried or in the midst of being transported that is of value could fall under this description.

The term "precious cargo" is often used in related to products that carry babies like car seats.
The term "precious cargo" is often used in related to products that carry babies like car seats.

Sometimes when women are pregnant, they also refer to themselves as carrying precious cargo. Being pregnant means acting as a container and transporter for a fetus until birth. It’s more used in a joking way in this sense, and some women may be sensitive to any comparison to large carrying mechanisms like a cargo ship. However, the term, in this sense, is used pretty frequently, as evidenced by the number of maternity stores that bear the name Precious Cargo and are devoted to selling clothing.

There are also many stores that sell items for kids and babies with this name. They may specialize in the types of things that carry and hold kids, like strollers, car seats and the like. It appears that precious cargo has a fairly loose definition that can be adapted for a number of uses, most of them having to do with children.

People may wonder why it is that parents would want to openly signal that they have children present in their car with “baby on board” signs. Probably some parents find these signs important and hope that other drivers seeing them will drive more carefully around them. It’s a reminder to other drivers that there is a child in a car close by, and a request for drivers to be safe around the precious cargo on the road. It’s hard to say whether such a sign works, since auto deaths are still one of the leading causes of infant and child mortality.

An expectant mother may claim to be carrying "precious cargo."
An expectant mother may claim to be carrying "precious cargo."
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


When I was shopping for my kids' strollers I actually decided to choose the ones that stated, "for precious cargo only". I really thought that was a cute pitch because it shows that the company really knows how most parents feel about their children.

One of the things I have noticed though is that it seems that more and more companies are adopting the precious cargo phrase into their marketing. I see clothing and toys with precious cargo on them all the time. Sometimes, it just doesn't really make sense. It seems like with anything, companies have taken a good idea and gone overboard with it.


Whenever I think of precious cargo I really take it in the literal sense. I am always shipping things home when I travel abroad and occasionally I will splurge and buy an irreplaceable piece of art. While I hate to part with it, it just isn't realistic to carry the art I buy with me from country to country.

Most countries allow you to mark your packages as fragile, but I also like to write precious cargo on the box just as a reminder. I have seen too many boxes just tossed around at post offices to not want to emphasize safe handling of my goods. It also helps if you can write the phrase in the language of the country you're in.


A local veterinary clinic has a van designated as an animal ambulance. The name of the clinic is painted on its side, along with the words “precious cargo.”

The van usually goes out and gets animals that have been hit by cars and refuse to let their owners pick them up and carry them, since injured animals can be aggressive. It also goes out to help owners who are too disabled or weak to pick up their heavy animals and bring them in to the clinic.

The words “precious cargo” are surrounded by paintings of sweet little puppies and kittens. Those who love animals will pull over and let this van pass them.


I work at a special needs school, so when they are dropped off each morning by the school bus, our school staff always tries to thank each bus driving for taking care of our precious cargo that was on their bus.

I think we kind of use our show of appreciation, like the article talked about how people use the sign "baby on board" and hope that people are more careful driving around them. We hope that the bus drivers will always remember that they have precious cargo, so they will take care on the road.


I live near the ocean, and while I’m at work, my daughter stays on a ship called Precious Cargo Daycare. It’s a great idea, because it keeps the kids entertained.

The daycare stays in the bay, so I don’t have to worry about giant waves knocking the ship over during a storm. It goes out on the water, and kids can see dolphins jumping and seagulls diving.

The daycare is for children five and under. The ship has very secure guard rails that make it impossible for a kid to slip off the deck. Other vessels are very careful when approaching this ship, because they can see the “Precious Cargo Daycare” logo painted on both sides.


My husband and his family tease each other mercilessly. They don’t get their feelings hurt very easily, so my brother-in-law knew that the birthday gift he had gotten for my husband would do no harm.

My husband is quite overweight. He has a protruding gut that makes him resemble a pregnant woman. So, his brother bought him a t-shirt that says “Precious Cargo” on the front.

What makes it even funnier is that the shirt clings to his belly, so it really does look like he’s pregnant. People might be fooled until they see his beard and mustache. He wears it when we go shopping, and people always giggle.


My neighbor’s baby was kidnapped from a car with a “precious cargo” sticker on the back windshield. The woman who took the baby later confessed to having taken several babies, and she told police that she looked for signs like these when searching for babies to take.

My neighbor had buckled her baby into her carseat and went back in the house to grab her purse. She was gone just a few seconds, but that was long enough for her baby to be kidnapped.

She has since removed the sign from her car. She tells anyone she meets with the same sign on their vehicle about her story.


When my niece was pregnant I gave her a Precious Cargo diaper bag. I knew her husband would be just as involved with the baby and didn't want something that was feminine or frilly.

This was a perfect diaper bag because it was neutral colored and worked for either a boy or girl. My niece's husband didn't have any issues about carrying this diaper bag around.

Another feature they really liked about it was it was very roomy and also included a folding changing pad inside the bag.


When I was given a baby shower for my son, I received a Lambs and Ivy precious cargo bedding set that I really enjoyed.

The set came complete with everything I needed as far as bedding for my new baby. It came with a matching quilt, sheet, bumper and dust ruffle for the crib. There was also a valance for the window and a bag to stack diapers in.

The nursery seemed to instantly be transformed once I got this set, and it was a gift that I was able to enjoy every day for a long time.


Anytime I had my kids in the car with me I felt like I was transporting precious cargo. It didn't matter how old they were I was always protective of them when riding in the car.

Even when they were old enough to ride in the front seat I would instinctively reach my arm across the seat if I had to come to an abrupt stop.

My son would be a little embarrassed by this, but I told him it didn't matter because there was precious cargo in transportation here.

The funny thing is - I have seen him do that with his own kids now.


@MissDaphne - Another problem with those signs is that they, well, announce you have a baby in your car. There are a lot of bad people out there. I suspect that the sign creates more danger than it resolves.

I'm particularly shocked by the new trend of those family stickers people get, which show every member of the family and their approximate age. Some of them even have the names of the children on them! What happened to the rule that you never tell a stranger your name? Safety sense, people!


I doubt that those "baby on board" signs do any good to make people recognize your precious cargo, your baby. There are so many of them that I think people have stopped even noticing them.

And I've talked to a lot of people who find the signs actively irritating. For one thing, they seem to be asking for special treatment for their child. For another, I think people resent the implication that they do not drive carefully in general - most people like to think that they are good drivers all the time.

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