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What is Breakbulk Shipping?

February 4, 2020
 By rltruckseo
What is Breakbulk Shipping?
Last Modified: March 8, 2023
When you’re planning your shipping and logistics, one of the first questions you’ll ask is, what is breakbulk shipping? Familiarizing yourself with the different forms of cargo transportation is vital if you want to choose the right shipping methods. As well as minimizing your costs and fast-tracking your deliveries, selecting the best form of shipping […]

When you’re planning your shipping and logistics, one of the first questions you’ll ask is, what is breakbulk shipping? Familiarizing yourself with the different forms of cargo transportation is vital if you want to choose the right shipping methods. As well as minimizing your costs and fast-tracking your deliveries, selecting the best form of shipping for your cargo reduces the risk of breakages or spoiling.

In addition to learning more about the various shipping methods available, you’ll want to understand the regulations and laws which govern domestic and international breakbulk shipping. Although the guidelines governing imports and exports are complex, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration offers a range of advice to firms. 

How Does Breakbulk Shipping Work?

Breakbulk shipping involves transporting goods using crates, drums or barrels. In some cases, special equipment may also be utilized, depending on what type of goods are being moved. However, knowing what breakbulk shipping is means being able to differentiate this type of logistics from other types of freight forwarding.

When firms want to ship goods, they usually send items via container shipping or truckload shipping. Goods are loaded into a container, which is then placed aboard a ship or behind a truck alongside hundreds of other containers, before leaving the dock and heading for its destination.

However, when goods are too big to be housed in standard shipping containers, alternative methods are required, and this is where breakbulk shipping comes in. Instead of using shipping containers, breakbulk shipping relies on specialized ships, bags, boxes, crates, drums and special equipment to transport oversized goods.

Often used to ship construction equipment, large engines, generators, large vehicles and propellers, breakbulk shipping ensures companies have the flexibility they need to transport items that are too large to be shipped using standard methods. Due to the size of the goods involved, break bulk cargo may be transported individually and may even have its own route chartered to ensure safe passage.

Although many firms utilize air freight forwarding services as an alternative to container shipping, this isn’t a viable alternative to breakbulk shipping. When items are too large to be transported via a container, they will typically be too oversized, heavy or cumbersome to be transported via air.

For producers, manufacturers or owners of these particular types of goods, breakbulk shipping is generally the only safe way to transport their assets cross country or from one overseas location to another.

what is breakbulk shipping

What is the Difference Between Bulk and Breakbulk Cargo?

Some people inadvertently use the terms bulk cargo and breakbulk cargo interchangeably, but they are actually very distinct forms of shipping. When you’re shipping any type of cargo, it’s vital to ensure you’re booking the right services. While some forms of cargo could be transported via multiple methods, bulk shipping certainly won’t be a viable option when you really need transport for break bulk cargo!

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 the truck, without the need for containers, barrels, drums or crates. Often known as bulkers, the ships used to transport bulk cargo typically have numerous cargo holds. These can be used to hold different types of cargo on behalf of different shippers or one shipment may take up the entire hold space.

It is important to note that the term bulk cargo is only normally used to refer to dry cargo. While non-solid cargo can be transported in a similar way, the term liquid cargo is generally used to specify the contents of a non-solid shipment.

In comparison, break bulk cargo is comprised of 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 break bulk cargo to be individually loaded and unloaded on to the ship, sometimes using special equipment to facilitate the loading and unloading process.

Although break bulk cargo cannot be shipped via standard methods, such as using a container, this doesn’t mean that it is not packaged at all. In fact, break bulk cargo can be stored in crates, drums or barrels, as well as bags and boxes. Known as unitized cargo, it is the individual loading and unloading, as well as the individual shipping, which differentiates breakbulk shipping from other types of freight forwarding.

When Should You Use Breakbulk Shipping?

Breakbulk shipping is ideal for goods that cannot utilize container shipping options and commodities which can’t be shipped as bulk cargo. There are many different 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

As you can see, there are many different goods which may require specialized breakbulk shipping services. While pallets, boxes, crates, and drums may be used to house some of these goods whilst they are in transit, other forms of break bulk cargo may be moved in bags or barrels. Crucially, however, breakbulk cargo is never shipped via container as the nature of the goods simply exceeds the size and/or weight capacities offered by container shipping.

Heavy Haul and Oversized is equipped to handle all of your heavy haul trucking needs. Our 99.5 % on-time delivery rate and continuous freight visibility give you peace of mind that the job will get done. 

Breakbulk Commodities

Breakbulk shipping is used to transport a variety of commodities. Two of the largest commodities markets to ship goods via breakbulk are:

  • Metals e.g. silver, gold, copper, platinum, iron ore, and steel
  • Agricultural e.g. wood, logs, coffee, soybeans and rice, rubber

As you can see, breakbulk commodities are typically the raw materials used by manufacturing. If bulk shipping isn’t an appropriate method of transport for commodities, breakbulk shipping may be used instead.

It’s important to note, however, that breakbulk cargo isn’t solely comprised of commodities. Indeed, manufacturers may receive raw materials via breakbulk shipping before exporting their finished products using container shipping. Equally, finished products could be exported via breakbulk shipping, depending on their size, weight, and specialty features.

Advantages of Breakbulk Shipping

Although breakbulk is a specialized form of shipping, it is a suitable form of transport for many types of cargo. Due to this, a significant number of people choose to use breakbulk shipping as their preferred method of transporting goods. Some of the benefits associated with break bulk shipping include:

  • Availability
  • Flexibility
  • Speed

In terms of availability, breakbulk cargo can be loaded and unloaded in the vast majority of truck terminals and ports around the world. While some ports in underdeveloped countries may not have the machinery or technology to deal with containers, for example, they do have the facilities to process breakbulk cargo.

In fact, breakbulk shipping routes are, perhaps, the most common across the globe. Traditionally, break bulk shipping was the standard form of overseas transportation, regardless of the type of cargo that was being moved. Due to this, older ports are still well-equipped to deal with cargo in this form. For companies, the high availability of ports and truck terminals equipped to deal with breakbulk shipping means that there is a wide variety of ports and routes which can be used.

In addition to this, breakbulk is known for its flexibility in relation to what type of cargo can be transported safely. While container shipping restricts cargo contents based on size, breakbulk shipping can accommodate goods of any size or shape. From coffee beans in hessian bags to giant wind turbines; breakbulk shipping comes in all shapes, weights, and sizes.

What’s more, breakbulk shipping can be used to transport potentially hazardous material. When this type of cargo is being transported, it’s vital that it remains separated from any other cargo on board or by the truckload. 

Although speed is often cited as a downside of breakbulk shipping, there are ways in which break bulk shipping delivers increased speed to customers. For larger items, breakbulk shipping may be the fastest way to transport goods. If large equipment was to be transported any other way, it would need to be disassembled, packed and shipped before being reassembled at its destination.

This would inevitably slow the overall processing time, which means companies would be forced to wait longer for their goods to reach them in the appropriate form. Additionally, the increased costs associated with disassembly and reassembly would place an extra burden on commercial enterprises.

With breakbulk shipping, however, companies can ship goods in their intended form, regardless of how big or heavy they are. This enables shippers to use the fastest form of transportation for their goods and minimizes the number of processes required prior to and following overseas shipping.

As you can see, there are a range of benefits associated with break bulk shipping. While it may be one of the oldest forms of freight forwarding, the advantages of breakbulk shipping ensure it remains as relevant today as it was centuries ago.

breakbulk containers

Disadvantages of Breakbulk Shipping

Although there are many benefits of breakbulk shipping, there are some drawbacks too. Some firms may find that break bulk shipping is costly or slow in comparison to other methods, for example. Indeed, break bulk cargo is transported individually, which means it takes longer to load and unload than most other types of cargo. When goods are individually loaded and unloaded, for example, the process is more labor-intensive, and it invariably takes longer than bulk or container shipping.

Due to the loading and unloading requirements of transporting break bulk cargo, it can seem to be more expensive than other forms of freight forwarding. While it’s true that breakbulk shipping may be costlier when you make a direct comparison to container or bulk shipping, this doesn’t necessarily examine the cost of break bulk shipping in its true light.

On the face of it, break bulk shipping takes longer and is more expensive than other types of cargo transportation. As seen above, however, some goods are simply not suited for alternative shipping methods. While break bulk shipping may be more expensive than container shipping, it is often cheaper than dissembling goods so that they can be loaded and unloaded via a container, shipping them in a container and reassembling them at their destination.

When making a direct comparison with other shipping methods, the cost and time involved with break bulk shipping may seem like disadvantages. In reality, however, break bulk shipping is the most efficient and cost-effective way to transport a large number of goods and commodities.

While the cost and speed of break bulk shipping may be disadvantageous is your goods can be shipped via containers or in bulk, it remains the most effective form of shipping for goods which are unsuitable for these shipping methods. It could be said, therefore, that the disadvantages associated with break bulk shipping only really apply if shippers choose the wrong method of shipping for their cargo.

By examining your options and selecting the most suitable form of shipping, the drawbacks which may be commonly associated with breakbulk shipping are, in fact, quite the opposite.

Transporting Breakbulk Cargo

As with all types of shipping, transporting breakbulk cargo requires effective handling and organization. Whenever you are shipping cargo from one location to another, various documentation is required, for example. If companies fail to prepare their cargo correctly, this can lead to delays and cargo seizures.

Furthermore, bespoke arrangements may need to be made so that break bulk cargo can be loaded and unloaded efficiently. Due to the vast range of goods that can be transported via break bulk shipping, there are numerous configurations used to ensure safe loading and unloading. As well as using a variety of equipment, such as loading cranes, individually loading and unloading cargo typically requires more personnel. This means that arrangements have to be made for additional longshoreman to be available in order to load and unload break bulk cargo.

Depending on the size, shape, and weight of breakbulk cargo, specialized vehicles and storage facilities may also need to be arranged in advance. Airplane propellers, aircrafts, and turbines are often transported via breakbulk shipping, for example, and each unit can be valued at millions of dollars.

Due to their unique specifications and inherent value, custom loading and unloading processes may need to be utilized. For companies, it is essential that the details of these processes are agreed prior to shipping. If cargo arrives at the port and the facilities are not in place, it can lead to costly delays. With specialist assistance, however, companies can streamline their break bulk shipping processes and ensure individual loading and unloading are managed safely, securely and efficiently.

breakbulk cargo

Breakbulk Regulations

As well as taking the practical considerations of break bulk cargo into account, companies must be mindful of breakbulk regulations. There are a myriad of laws and rules which govern shipping, particularly when it comes to importing and exporting on an international scale.

Similarly, certain industries have specific regulations that ensure safe practices and minimize the risk of contamination or the spread of disease. For any company using international shipping services, it’s critical that the procedures and protocols are followed at all times.

The International Maritime Organization’s cap on sulfur emissions is just one example of the regulations shippers must be aware of. Introduced in January 2020, the new rules reduce the maximum sulfur emissions from 3.5% to just 0.5% in most of the world’s shipping lanes. To date, the majority of breakbulk shipping companies are switching to low sulfur fuel, rather than installing scrubbers to minimize outputs. For customers who may see a rise in transport costs, it’s important to understand the rationale and regulations behind the changes.

However, customers do not want to be bogged down with endless paperwork, documentation and regulation compliance when they are arranging the transportation of break bulk cargo. Fortunately, they don’t have to be. By using a reliable and reputable logistics firm, companies can access the in-depth knowledge and expertise they need quickly and efficiently.

As well as having access to specialist personnel, using a leading logistics company to facilitate break bulk shipping minimizes the administrative impact on companies. When documentation, customs, and certifications are handled by specialist staff, the risk of errors is reduced. Furthermore, the speed at which this administrative work can be completed is increased, which enables break bulk cargo to be processed more quickly.

Specialized Truckload Shipping with Heavy Haul and Oversized

Now you know what is breakbulk shipping, you may be eager to find out more. If break bulk shipping sounds like the right type of transportation for your cargo, why not get in touch with us today? With extensive experience in the industry and a variety of shipping services, we will ensure a seamless and hassle-free shipping service from start to finish.

No matter whether you need truckload shipping for cargo going cross country from New York to California or need help with freight movement in Southern California, we are here to help.

Request a truckload freight rate quote and get your goods on the move today. Click the link below for information about our services or give us a call at (855) 490-2433.

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