Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

Expert tips on smarter shipping between the U.S. and Eastern Europe, including shipping of heavy goods.

All About International Heavy Machinery Shipping Services

I.C.E. Transport | Apr 11, 2023 7:30:00 AM | heavyweight freight, out of gauge


It’s tough enough getting small packages overseas with the speed and efficiency that’s demanded today. But international heavy machinery shipping services? That’s a whole other challenge.

If you're a company that deals with heavy machinery, you know that in some cases, shipping the machinery internationally may be more cost-effective than purchasing it locally. Or, maybe you’re a small business looking to access specialized equipment that’s only available overseas.

Overall, shipping heavy machinery internationally can be a complex process. But it can also be a valuable investment. Here’s what you need to know.


Transport Options for Heavy Machinery Shipping

International shipping of heavy machinery, like bulldozers, requires attention to detail and a reliable shipping company to ensure the safe and efficient delivery of your equipment.

The best international heavy machinery shipping services for your business will depend on several factors, including the type and size of the machinery, the origin and destination, and your budget. In terms of the ocean leg of your journey, you’ve got some different options:

  • Shipping in a standard ocean container: Standard container shipping is ideal for smaller heavy machinery that can fit inside a closed container. It’s by far your most cost-effective option. Steamship lines will treat it like any other box, and landside transport via truck or train will also be easier and cheaper.
  • Shipping in a special flat rack container: Flat rack shipping is ideal for oversized machinery that cannot fit inside an ocean container or be driven onto a RO-RO ship. The machinery is loaded onto a flat rack, which is then secured to the ship's deck during transit. Flat rack shipping is a flexible option for oversized or irregularly shaped machinery.
  •  international heavy machinery shipping servicesShipping in an open top containerOpen top containers are right for transporting over-height cargo. Cargo can be loaded by crane from the top-side. Over height cargo can also be loaded from the doorside since the door header can be swung open.
  • RO-RO shipping: Roll-On, Roll-Off, or RO-RO, shipping is ideal for heavy machinery that can be driven onto and off of the ship using its own wheels or tracks. The machinery is secured to the ship's deck during transit. RO-RO shipping is a convenient and cost-effective option for larger construction vehicles.

NOTE: If you’re transporting machines with no wheels or tracks, your cargo may still ship via RO-RO using a MAFI trailer. These are wheeled platforms used by the shipping lines on RO-RO vessels to move large static cargo. 


Read Our Ultimate Guide to Shipping Heavyweight and Oversized Freight


An experienced logistics partner can help you determine which shipping option and container type is best, including whether to choose RO-RO or flat rack for large, oversized machinery.

With the RO-RO method, you will want to make sure that the ship can handle the equipment you intend to transport. The same goes for the destination port, as some ports are unable to handle certain types of ships or products. As a general rule, however, most larger ports will have no problem handling your large machinery shipping projects.

In terms of cost, the ocean rate will probably be about the same on a container ship or RO-RO vessel. But since container lines serve more ports and offer more sailings, they offer more chances to shop for a better price. And if you’re on a tight schedule, the greater frequency of container line sailings will give you more flexibility.


Securing and Protecting Heavy Machinery During Transport

Whatever container you use, if the machinery doesn’t fully fill the space, the load might shift and suffer damage in transit. You can use lumber to fill the empty space, plus straps, and maybe chains, to keep the cargo in place. An experienced logistics partner can advise you on the best way to secure the load. It’s not wise to cut corners here. Protecting this very expensive equipment with sound blocking and bracing should be a top priority.

If you use a flat rack container, you must be extra careful about preparing the load for the voyage. Oversize cargo on a flat rack must pass an inspection at the port to make sure it’s blocked and braced according to standards set by the National Cargo Bureau (NCB). Fail inspection, and you’ll have to pay someone to rework the cargo before the steamship line will load it on the vessel.

If your company doesn’t have the skills to secure the load, you could arrange for a trucker to take the machinery to a warehouse near the port. There, experts will load it in a container, block and brace it, and deliver it to the steamship line.

You should also leave only a minimal amount of fuel in the machine and take steps to protect machinery against the elements during shipping. Construction equipment can stand up to salt water and spray. But machinery that includes control panels or other exposed electronics requires extra shipping safeguards – a desiccant to absorb moisture and shrink wrap to cover the machine.

Some machinery shipping projects will include rust-proofing the equipment for further protection. This may involve painting the machinery or galvanizing it with a zinc and steel coating.


How to Reduce Heavy Machinery Shipping Costs

When machinery is too big to fit in a standard, closed container, you’ll pay higher rates on both land and water. But a few strategies can help you save money:

  • Reconfigure the machine. If you can disassemble a large machine or detach its accessories (e.g., the bucket of a bulldozer), you might be able to fit the parts in a closed container, or within the dimensions of a flat rack or open top container, reducing your ocean and trucking rates and eliminating the need for an oversize permit on the road. You’ll have the challenge of reassembly at destination, but if that task is not too daunting it could save you a few thousand dollars by avoiding the out-of-gauge shipment.
  • Maximize miles on the water. Since ocean rates are lower than trucking rates, it pays to make as much of the trip on water as possible. For example, if you transport machinery from Europe to Atlanta, it’s better to ship through the Port of Charleston or Savannah than New York.
  • Capitalize on capacity. Depending on the states your shipment crosses in the US, you might be allowed to load 54,000 lbs or more in a container, as long as your trucker has the necessary overweight permit. If you ship machinery in several containers, loading each box to full capacity could let you ship fewer boxes, reducing your total cost for heavy cargo shipping.


Call in the Heavy Machinery Shipping Experts

Shipping machinery overseas can be especially hard for smaller shippers. If you’re not part of a large organization, and you don’t ship this kind of equipment all the time, then you probably don’t have employees who know how to:

  • secure and protect the load
  • find truckers that specialize in overweight and/or oversize loads
  • classify the machinery correctly to clear customs
  • arrange for transportation in another country or language

No matter the size of your business, you can gain all this know-how if you team up with a specialist. A company that has spent many years transporting overweight and out of gauge cargo can help you ship machinery at a reasonable price and avoid the pitfalls.

Need to arrange an international machinery shipment? Get started by contacting I.C.E. Transport.


New call-to-action