Heavy Haulers Daily Blog

What is Breakbulk Transport?

When most people think of international shipping, they envision cranes lifting shipping containers from huge cargo ships and stacking them like giant dominos on docks the size of football fields. While this is accurate to a certain extent, shipping containers are by no means the only way that goods get moved from one place to another.

Another popular option is less known but no less important to the international shipping industry. That is breakbulk transport. In fact, according to the latest numbers, about half of all cargo that enters the United States is breakbulk goods.

What is Breakbulk Transport?

You will see breakbulk spelled several ways: break-bulk, breakbulk, or break bulk. What it really amounts to is general cargo.

That is, items that because they are too large, too bulky, or simply don’t require the use of shipping containers. A few common examples would include:

  • Construction Equipment
  • Heavy or oversized goods
  • Large engines
  • Manufacturing equipment
  • Oil and gas equipment
  • Reels of wire and cable
  • Rolls of metal
  • Steel girders
  • Structural steel
  • Vehicles

Beyond these, any items shipped in bags, drums, barrels, crates, or drop tanks are also considered break bulk cargo. However, break bulk and bulk shipping are completely different.

Bulk shipping involves items like petroleum products, grains, and fertilizer. These items are shipped loose in special vessels or trucks.

Break bulk transport cargo on a trailer.

What Is The Difference Between Breakbulk and Container Shipping?

The most obvious difference between container shipping and breakbulk shipping is, of course, the shipping container. Breakbulk shipping doesn’t use one. Instead, large breakbulk cargo is packaged as a single unit. Smaller breakbulk items may be carried on pallets or similarly packaged.

Because of these differences, breakbulk shipping offers several advantages over container shipping.

  • Equipment doesn’t have to be broken down and reassembled upon delivery
  • Smaller quantities can be shipped without the need to share containers
  • Because a port crane isn’t needed, you may have more shipping options, such as using RORO vessels.
  • When shipping equipment as single units, there is only one bill of laden to be dealt with
  • Many times, shipping can go through smaller (less congested) ports
  • Depending on the cargo and destination, smaller vessels may be available at lower rates

Of course, no shipping method is perfect, and breakbulk shipping has some drawbacks. Specifically, when shipping large items and pieces of equipment, ground transport may require special arrangements to and from ports. In addition:

  • Because large, oddly shaped items can take up more room in a ship’s hold, companies may charge higher rates for their transport.
  • Breakbulk cargo often requires special tie-down procedures to ensure its own safety and that of other cargo, which can lead to added expense.
  • Extremely large items may require specialized equipment for loading and unloading that is not available in all ports.

How to Ship Breakbulk Cargo Safely

Because breakbulk cargo is not stored in shipping containers, special packaging may be required for cargo that needs protection from moisture or other environmental considerations. For the same reason, special care must be taken when securing the load.

If your cargo shifts while in transit, it could be damaged. Of even greater concern, cargo that breaks free and shifts can damage other items around it or place the vessel itself in danger. These are not considerations to be taken lightly.

To safely ship breakbulk cargo, working with a company with extensive experience with similar items is best. Heavy Haulers and similar companies can help you maximize the efficiency of moving your breakbulk cargo while minimizing expenses and risks.

They can see that you get the biggest bang for your buck and that all the necessary precautions are taken to ensure your shipment arrives safe and sound without any entanglements.

In the shipping industry, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, breakbulk shipping is perhaps the best solution for large, bulky, and heavy items. This is especially true of items like manufacturing equipment and heavy equipment. Eliminating the need to disassemble items for shipping and eliminating the risk of mistakes being made during reassembly is a great advantage all by itself.