As its name implies, the basin was formerly used as a public cargo handling area. Mid-stream operators transferred goods from ocean-going ships onto barges. They then sailed to the Wan Chai Cargo Handling Basin, where they transferred the goods onto trucks. In 2003, the basin's cargo-handling activities were relocated to the Chai Wan Public Cargo Working Area.
The breakwater of the basin is currently used as a helipad by the Government Flying Service to replace the Central Helipad at Fenwick Street.