Contact Us
(866) 757-1109
Get a Quote

Flat Rack Transload: Overcome Limits for Oversized Cargo

backview of semi pulling flatbed trailer with tarpped cargo
Flat Rack Transload: Overcome Limits for Oversized Cargo
The bigger they are, the harder they fall and the harder they are to ship. See how flat rack transload can take some of the stress out of shipping oversized cargo internationally and cross continent.
By Natalie Kienzle
 | September 14, 2022
 | Share
Copy URL to Clipboard
Last Modified: June 1, 2023

Flat rack transload services are a must when importing or exporting heavy loads or out-of-gauge cargo that won’t conform to standard shipping containers. One of the great benefits of modern international shipping was the standardization of containers. That said, shipping anything that doesn’t quite conform to those standards now requires special treatment. 

The National Cargo Bureau (NCB) follows a set of rules for preparing goods for ocean shipping, and the U.S. Federal Highway Commission sets truck gross weight limits. Flat rack transloading uses both sets of regulations to ensure Out-Of-Gauge (OOG) cargo is being secured and weighed accordingly for ship or truck transport. 

Find solutions to move your OOG cargo internationally with flat rack transloading services. 

Flat Rack Transload: What Qualifies? 

In the shipping industry, whether truck or marine, closed containers and trailers are the easiest and safest way to move goods. Moving OOG cargo requires carriers that invest in special equipment and who are willing to take on high-risk,high-value commodities. 

Each industry has its own unique response to moving such cargo. The trucking industry will use a variety of flatbed trailer designs. The flat rack and super-rack container designs are the marine shipping versions. 

Flat rack transloading services are often needed to move items from one to the other. These may include:

  • Heavy construction equipment
  • Oversized vehicles
  • Industrial pipes and tubing
  • Transformers
  • Military equipment
  • Breakbulk goods
  • Yachts
  • Airplane parts

Flat rack transloading services can help you get these goods transferred off or onto ocean vessels.  

flat rack transload semi hauling empty flatbed

What Are the Benefits of Flat Rack Transload?

The ability to transload OOG merchandise opens up additional shipping opportunities, some of which might be able to save you money. 

Depending on the actual dimensions, especially for height, a flat rack container may still be stacked with standard TEUs on a regular container ship. If your goods are taller than a standard container (greater than eight feet), you can try transloading to a super-rack container. These have extendable posts on each corner which still makes stacking possible.  

This means that you don’t have to schedule your shipments with a breakbulk-specific vessel - these are both more expensive and less secure. 

There are other significant disadvantages to using breakbulk vessels

  • Cargo is shipped without being individually contained
  • Higher risk of theft and loss
  • Full exposure to weather if carried on deck
  • Slow loading and unloading process
  • Unsuitable for cargo requiring temperature control

Using a standard container ship for your international shipping needs is going to be less expensive and more secure. Congested marine terminals are more likely to unload container ships before breakbulk ships

When ports are congested, workers want to unload ships as quickly and efficiently as possible. The crane systems used to load and unload container ships can work quickly because of the standard dimensions of each container. 

Breakbulk vessels may need to adjust crane operations for every load on or off the ship, and those goods would then need to be transported for storage or left in the open. It’s going to be a more time-consuming process no matter how you look at it. Chances are, a port will save it for last so as not to hold up other ships. 

If your cargo is just too tall, even for a super-rack container, there is still a chance to avoid a breakbulk ship. You may request that your shipment be kept below deck, or you might just end up at the top of a container stack.   

Flat Rack Transload Vs RoRo Loading

Using flat rack transload to move construction equipment also provides an alternative to roll-on, roll-off loading, known as RoRo services. 

RoRo ships and berths and designed so vehicles can be driven on and off on their power. There are no cranes or containers of any sort used. Is RoRo less expensive than using flat rack containers? It might be. 

You need to consider a few scenarios. 

  • If exporting, you need to make absolutely sure that whatever machine you drive onto the ship is capable of driving off. RoRo cargo that can’t get off the ship on its own power goes on a round trip if repairs aren’t possible. You end up paying the shipping costs and have to deal with unhappy customers. 
  • What if the vehicle’s final destination is far from the port? You still need a transload site capable of handling OOG materials to get them loaded onto a flatbed trailer or perhaps an open top boxcar. 
  • Frequent importers of OOG cargo may want the ability to use multiple ports and ships. Not every port has RoRo berths and not every steamship line has these specially designed ships. Importers seeking to diversify to avoid supply chain bottlenecks might decide that paying a little bit more in shipping is worth the time savings.   

The flexibility offered by flat rack transloading could make all the difference in the circumstances presented. This is especially true considering the struggles faced by many RoRo ports during the pandemic. To make the best decisions, shippers need to look at their business's individual needs.  

warehouse storage area for pallets and crates

What Equipment Is Needed for Flat Rack Transloading?

Transload facilities that handle abnormal or heavy cargo need to be able to adjust for different types of shipping containers. Open top and flat rack containers are both common with OOG shippers. 

Common transloading equipment includes:

  • Forklifts
  • Heavy-duty cranes
  • Tie-down and lashing
  • Marine/Industrial shrink wrap
  • Tarps

When there is no choice but to have cargo exposed to the elements, industrial shrinkwrap can protect sensitive items such as new boats or trucks that need to arrive in factory conditions. It can also be used to protect exposed wooden crates. 

Shipments that are coming from the port, perhaps with the assistance of drayage services, need to be off-loaded. Depending on the commodity, the transload facility may need to have access to rail services. For items getting moved to a flatbed trailer for overland transport, it’s important that facilities have certified scales for proper weighing. 

Container to Truck Transloading

Flat rack containers are shorter than the average flatbed trailer. Like other marine shipping containers, they are manufactured in the standard 20-foot and 40-foot sizes. Flatbed trailers in the U.S. measure between 48 feet to 53 feet long. Even so, more weight is possible on a marine container than on an overland truck trailer. 

There are specific guidelines for weight distribution set forth by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHA). These regulations set the maximum allowed weight for freight trucks. Flatbed trailers are permitted to carry slightly more than dry vans, but there are a series of rules and exceptions. 

Common standards should be followed when in doubt. 

FHA Maximum Vehicle Gross Weights and Axle Loads

Maximum Loaded Weight (Truck & Cargo)80,000 lbs
Dry Van Trailers44,000 - 45,000 lbs
Steer Axle12,000 lbs (6,000 per tire)
Drive Axle Tandems34,000 lbs (4,250 per tire)
Trailer Tandems34,000 lbs (4,250 per tire)
Source: FreightWaves

A 40-foot flat rack container has a fully loaded weight capacity of 88,200 pounds, which is more than the maximum set by the FHA. If you want to keep the goods inside the flat rack, you need to ship to a port that can transfer the container directly to a railcar through intermodal services.

However, if you must use a truck, realize that you may need to deconsolidate packaged items to make them legal for transport. For items where that isn’t possible, such as a large construction vehicle, then the transload facility would need to have a service contract with heavy haul carriers using specialized equipment.   

While this may raise the cost of your domestic shipping, done in reverse, it can save you on marine shipping. 

Loaded container ship on the open ocean

Preparing Flat Rack Containers for Ocean Vessels

Transloading flat rack loads to flatbed trailers requires facilities to comply with FHA regulations. When merchandise is moving in the opposite direction, from flatbed to flat rack, the facility must comply with the National Cargo Bureau (NCB)

The NCB provides assistance to and is backed up legally by the U.S. Coast Guard. Flat rack loads leaving the transload facility for the port are likely to be inspected. A failed inspection means your cargo stays on dry land. While you may not be penalized directly, fees related to delivery delays may impact your bottom line. 

NCB inspections will check on a number of different points. 

  • Weight distribution
  • Number and type of lashings
  • Safe Working Loads (SWLs) of materials used
  • Chain grades and positioning
  • Blocking and bracing
  • Chaffing material
  • Dunnage/Transverse bearings

If you are arranging your shipments through a carrier directly or through a 3PL, it’s important to make sure that flat rack transload facilities are being vetted for quality. Perfecting transloading, especially of cargo that goes through such a rigorous inspection process, requires years of experience. 

Get Flat Rack Cargo Under Control with Transload Shipping USA

Using flat rack transload services for your OOG cargo and heavy haul needs provides you with needed options. Whether your goods need to get on or off a ship, trust the industry experts with Transload Shipping USA, powered by R+L Global Logistics. 

We have been working with transloaders for decades and know how to provide you with services that will help your business grow. 

Our team will make sure you can meet all your shipping needs.

Call today to speak with an industry logistics expert at (866) 757-1109. You can also request an online quote now and be on your way to a better shipping experience before you know it. 

Copy URL to Clipboard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top magnifiercrosscross-circle