Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

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

How are heavy shipping rates determined?

I.C.E. Transport | Sep 3, 2020 7:30:00 AM | heavyweight freight


There are no special heavy shipping rates on container vessels. Ask a steamship line for a quote, and it doesn’t matter if you’re filling a container with 5,000 lbs. or 55,000 lbs. The per-container ocean rate is the same.

But some heavy loads can’t be shipped in containers. And the total cost of transportation includes rates for other services besides the ocean crossing.

The more you know about what goes into the total cost of a heavy shipment, the better you can take control of that price tag. So let’s take a look at the components that could become part of the equation.

Read our Ultimate Guide to Shipping   Heavyweight and Oversized Freight


A shipping container can handle only so much weight – the maximum gross cargo weight listed on its door. Exceed that limit and you might see the floor fall out as a crane lifts the container into the air to transfer it on or off a ship. That’s true for a standard 20 or 40-foot box, and it’s true for a specialized container such as a flat rack or open top.

heavy-shipping-ratesIf you need to ship more than a container can handle safely, you could use a roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) vessel instead of a container ship. At a RO-RO port, longshoremen use cranes, forklifts, mafi trailers or other equipment to handle extra-heavy cargo going onto or coming off vessels, with no worries about gravity-induced disasters. Of course, if you’re shipping a truck, excavator or other vehicle that travels under its own power, someone can just drive it onto or off the ship.

A steamship line calculates RO-RO rates by either weight or volume. To come up with a quote, the sales rep asks for the cargo’s specifications in both metric tons and cubic meters. The rep multiplies the weight by the line’s current rate per metric ton, and the size by the current rate per cubic meter. Whichever number is higher, that’s your quote.


RO-RO port handling charges

The simpler the equipment needed to move cargo in a RO-RO port, the lower the port handling charges. The best rates are for cargo that can be driven on or off the ship. Rates for static cargo – the kind that needs material handling equipment – increase with the size and weight. And if the port uses a crane to help transfer the cargo, you’ll pay a rental fee with a mandatory minimum number of hours. There might also be a separate charge for the crane operator.


Truck transportation

Truckers charge by the mile, and their heavy shipping rates are always higher than their rates for standard-weight containers. That stands to reason. A heavy load needs a specialized chassis, and the truck burns more fuel when it pulls more weight.

But it’s hard to say how much more you’ll pay for a heavy shipment. Trucking rates vary with supply and demand. And extra charges could depend, for example, on whether the trucking company owns specialized chassis for heavy loads or rents them from a chassis pool.

You’ll probably also pay an overweight permit fee for each state through which the trucker transports your heavy load. Each state sets its own prices for overweight permits.

One more place where a heavy shipment by truck could cost you more is at the origin or destination. Typically, a trucking company gives you an hour or two to load or unload a container without a wait fee. But if the process takes longer, you’ll pay for the extra time you keep the driver and chassis off the road. For a container on a standard chassis, the typical charge is around $90 an hour. But for a heavy shipment on a specialized chassis, you’ll pay more like $150 an hour.


Heavy shipping rates on the rails

Heavy loads also can travel by rail. If the distance is long enough, rail can be an attractive alternative to over-the-road transportation. Railroads set weight limits on containers, but those tend to be extremely generous.

When you move heavy cargo through an ocean terminal with on-dock rail, that puts you in a great position to save money. But if there’s no rail in the port, you’re probably out of luck. Here’s why.

When a shipper uses rail to transport cargo to or from a port, it’s almost always the steamship line that books the cargo on the railroad. If you need a truck to dray a container between the port and an off-port rail terminal, the ocean carrier books that service, too. But if your load exceeds the steamship line’s published weight limit – usually about 44,000 lbs. – the line will probably refuse to book a truck to take it to or from the rail terminal.

As experienced heavy freight shippers know, a trucking company can transport a container loaded with 55,000 lbs., or even more, if it has the right permits and equipment. But most ocean carriers just don’t want the bother of arranging truck transportation for heavier shipments.

Bottom line: if there’s no rail terminal at the port, and you’re shipping an extra heavy load, you’ll pay motor carrier rates to move the load the whole distance to or from the port. And you’re better off letting a trucking broker, rather than an ocean carrier, source that dray capacity.


Get the best heavy shipping rate

If the geography is right and rail is an option, you can save a lot of money on heavy shipments. Otherwise, there’s not much wiggle room on rates. Container shipping, RO-RO shipping, port handling charges – all those rates are pretty much what the carriers say they are.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t save on heavy shipping rates. When you entrust your cargo to a forwarder that specializes in overweight container services, you and that partner may find some great ways to cut costs by choosing the right carriers and routes. Thanks to its relationships with experienced heavy haul trucking companies, the forwarder can find capacity when you need it, at competitive rates. It can also advise you on how to configure cargo to reduce transportation costs.

Need expert assistance with heavy cargo? Start the conversation with I.C.E Transport.


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