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What is Breakbulk Shipping and How Does It Work?

February 4, 2020
 By Heavy Haul and Oversized
What is Breakbulk Shipping and How Does It Work?
Last Modified: July 5, 2023
Enhance your knowledge of breakbulk shipping for heavy haul and oversized transportation. Explore its advantages and practical implementation techniques.

Breakbulk shipping plays a crucial role in moving oversized and heavy cargo across the country. This service is used to transport non-containerized goods that have just come off a cargo ship. Shippers should know about this transportation option and use it to their advantage. 

According to FreightWaves, domestic break bulk shipping refers to the transportation of oversized such as:

  • Heavy machinery
  • Construction equipment
  • Large components

Unlike regular dry van shipping, break bulk shipping requires the use of a flatbed, meticulous planning and handling due to the unique nature of the cargo, and can be extremely expensive.

Understanding how breakbulk shipping works via truck is extremely important as a shipper. Fortunately, we have detailed information that will help you out.

What is Domestic Break Bulk Shipping?

Domestic breakbulk shipping refers to the transportation of oversized cargo within U.S. borders. Cargo of this variety is too large to fit inside the confines of a dry van trailer. When transported domestically, this kind of freight has to be carried on a flatbed trailer. 

Various kinds of cargo can make up breakbulk shipments, such as:

  • Heavy machinery
  • Industrial equipment
  • Large components
  • Construction materials
  • Generators
  • Large engines
  • Propellers

This kind of freight is too large and dangerous to be loaded and unloaded by hand. Instead, forklifts and cranes are used to place and remove breakbulk freight from flatbed trailers. 

Our article on transporting construction equipment will give you more details on what you need to do to ship this kind of cargo. 

How Much Does Breakbulk Cargo Shipping Cost?

The cost of domestic breakbulk shipping depends on various factors. Understanding them will help shippers predict how much they’ll spend for their load of freight. 

Some factors that affect breakbulk shipping are:

  • Cargo dimensions
  • Cargo weight
  • Distance
  • Additional services

The size and dimensions of the cargo play a significant role in determining the cost. Freight that’s larger will require more effort to load and unload. This raises the expenses for domestic transportation services. 

Weight can have a similar effect on the cost of break bulk shipments. Heavier loads require more robust equipment and may have different pricing structures based on weight brackets. The distance cargo needs to travel also impacts the cost. The final destination of a breakbulk shipment can be within the same state or several states away.

Freight that travels longer distances will require more fuel consumption. This contributes to higher shipping expenses. 

Finally, additional services are another factor that can raise the prices of break bulk transportation. These are often required since cargo of this variety is considered oversized.

Some additional services include:

  • Oversize permits
  • Vehicle escorts
  • Oversize banners and flags

Before a business requests break bulk freight services, they should first determine how their shipment will affect the rate they’re charged.

what is breakbulk shipping

What is the Difference Between Bulk and Breakbulk Cargo?

The terms bulk and breakbulk cargo are often used interchangeably, despite them being very distinct forms of shipping. 

Bulk cargo refers to commodities which are shipped in loose form, rather than being packed. Dry goods, such as coal or grain, can be loaded directly into a trailer. Tankers and pneumatics are used to transport this kind of cargo.

It’s important to note that the term bulk cargo is normally used to refer to dry cargo. Liquid cargo is generally used to specify the contents of a non-solid shipment.
In comparison, break bulk cargo refers to individual items.These goods are too large or heavy to be stored in vast quantities and need to be shipped in isolation or in small numbers. Due to their size, it is normal for breakbulk cargo to be individually loaded and unloaded onto different trailers. This requires use of special equipment to complete this procedure.

When Should You Use Breakbulk Shipping

Break bulk freight shipping is a useful service, but many shippers aren’t sure when they should use it. As a rule of thumb, businesses should use this transportation service if they have oversized or project cargo that needs to be moved. 

There are many types of goods which require transportation via breakbulk shipping, such as:

  • Construction equipment
  • Propellers
  • Oversized vehicles
  • Turbine blades
  • Military equipment
  • Airplanes and wings
  • Generators
  • Large engines
  • Bagged goods e.g. coffee beans and cocoa
  • Rolls of steel
  • Boats
  • Train carriages and railway tracks
  • Oil and gas installations

When breakbulk freight is transported domestically, it must travel on the back of a flatbed trailer. There are many variations of this kind of equipment that can accommodate oversized and project cargo of varying sizes.

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Advantages of Break Bulk Shipping

Domestic breakbulk shipping has both advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these benefits and drawbacks is crucial for businesses seeking the most suitable transportation method for their unique goods. 

Advantages of Breakbulk Shipping

Breakbulk is a specialized form of shipping that’s used for many types of cargo. There are many advantages that shippers will enjoy when they use this transportation option. 

Some benefits associated with break bulk shipping include:

  • Availability
  • Flexibility
  • Customized solutions

In terms of availability, breakbulk cargo can be loaded and unloaded at the vast majority of truck terminals around the country. There are many break bulk carriers that have the truckers and equipment to safely transport this kind of freight. 

Domestic breakbulk shipping provides flexibility for a wide range of oversized cargo types. Therefore, businesses aren’t limited by the types of freight they need to ship. Breakbulk transport services are flexible because of the different solutions that’s used to perform the operation.

There are a variety of trailers used to transport this type of cargo domestically. Different kinds of machinery is also used for loading and unloading break bulk freight. These numerous options give shippers the ability to send their freight where it needs to go.  

Disadvantages of Breakbulk Shipping

Although shippers can enjoy the various benefits of breakbulk shipping, there are some drawbacks they should be aware of as well. 

These include:

  • High costs
  • Longer transit times
  • Specialized expertise

Breakbulk freight shipping is much more expensive than other types of transportation services. The specialized equipment and required labor drives up the costs for these types of loads. We’ve provided some data that will show you how much some common break bulk freight will cost to transport. 

Domestic Breakbulk Shipment Costs

Wind Turbine$30,000 – $40,000
Airplane Wing$1,000 – $5,000
Construction Equipment$1,000 – $10,000

Provided by Utility Dive 

As the data shows, expenses for domestic breakbulk freight shipping can vary based on the load. Route planning and adherence to regulations can drive up the costs for this transportation service.

The transit times for breakbulk shipments are considerably longer. This is partly because of the time it takes to plan a route and follow the applicable regulations. Additionally, handling this type of cargo is very time-consuming. Breakbulk freight often has to be broken down into separate parts and transported on multiple trailers. 

Finally, the expertise that’s required to move this kind of oversized cargo is expensive as well. Businesses have to rely on experienced professionals or logistics providers to ensure smooth transportation of their breakbulk freight. Personnel that’s qualified to move these loads will charge are a considerable amount for their services.

breakbulk containers

Domestic Breakbulk Shipping Regulations

Domestic breakbulk shipments are considered oversized loads. Therefore, shippers and carriers have to follow all regulations that are applicable for their shipment. This includes requirements in each state a breakbulk load travels through. 

Every oversized load will require a heavy haul permit that has detailed information about the shipment. The cost of obtaining a permit will vary based on the state. If you’re a business that transports breakbulk shipments frequently, you can obtain an annual permit rather than filling out a new one with each load.

Carriers transporting this kind of cargo will also need to use the correct safety equipment when they transport these shipments. Certain states require escort vehicles to accompany semis transporting oversize goods like breakbulk. 

Shippers will also have to consider running times. Many states don’t allow oversize breakbulk shipments to travel during the night hours. Heavy haul transport might be restricted during holidays as well. 

Read our articles on oversize load pilot cars and heavy haul shipping regulations for more information about these requirements.

breakbulk cargo

Transporting Breakbulk Cargo

After all the regulations have been completed and a route has been planned, transportation of breakbulk cargo can commence. Cranes and forklifts will be used for loading and unloading procedures. 

Due to the immense size and heavy weights of breakbulk freight, this process requires strict adherence to safety guidelines. Loading and unloading this kind of cargo typically requires more personnel. Flatbed trailers like lowboys and double dropdecks are used to transport breakbulk shipments

These types of trailers are much lower to the ground than standard flatbeds. This allows tall break bulk freight to pass under bridges and other clearance obstacles. Once a shipment arrives at the final destinations, freight is carefully unloaded using much of the same equipment that was used for loading. 
To learn more about the types of trailers used to transport domestic breakbulk shipment and other oversized goods, check out our article on this valuable kind of equipment.

Specialized Truckload Shipping with Heavy Haul and Oversized

If you need to ship break bulk freight or any other type of oversized cargo, then Heavy Haul & Oversized has you covered. With our network of experienced and reliable carriers, we can have your heavy haul shipment transported in no time. 

Your shipment will be moved using the following types of trailers:

  • Standard flatbed
  • Removable gooseneck (RGN)
  • Lowboy
  • Double drop deck

Each of these trailers is suited to transport specific types of oversized freight. Our experts will examine the details of your shipment and find a carrier that’s perfect for your shipment. If you’re ready to move your heavy haul load, then fill out a quote form for your freight. Our team is also available at (866) 902-2713 to answer any questions you might have.

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