Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

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

Heavy Freight Shippers:  Are Steamship Lines Undermining Your Biggest Cost-Saving Opportunity?

I.C.E. Transport | Jan 10, 2019 7:30:00 AM | heavyweight freight


In most selling situations, including logistics, the companies doing the “recommending” tend to suggest solutions that favor the products or services they sell. 

  • For long-haul freight, a rail company may see intermodal as the best solution.
  • Freight auditors might say your transport solution is fine; you just need to keep carriers honest by checking invoices.

Shippers of heavy freight are faced with this regularly when steamship lines, or local forwarders working with steamship lines tell them they must limit container weight to 44,000 pounds or even less – what they claim is the legal limit. 

heavy freight containerActually, the only limit to container weight on the ocean is the maximum gross cargo weight listed on the container door. The legal limitations occur on the land side where, in the U.S., weight restrictions on roads limit the total weight to 80,000 pounds for a standard tractor-trailer.  But the use of specialized trucks with overweight permits allows shippers to add 10,000 pounds to this max road weight in many states, and sometimes more depending on the state. This landside capability allows more efficient heavy freight shipping on the water.

Read our Ultimate Guide to Shipping   Heavyweight and Oversized Freight


Heavy freight shippers who heed the advice of steamship lines pay the cost of shipping a full container, even though it's only partially full.

Why do steamship lines provide this guidance?

Because it’s in their best interest. 

They are in the business of moving large volumes of containers as fast and as efficiently as possible. Their global, “door-to-door” solutions are primarily designed around consumer goods, which account for the vast majority of the ocean freight being moved. 

Delivering heavyweight containers door-to-door requires relationships with specialized trucking companies – on both sides of the ocean – that have the right equipment and the blanket or single-trip permits required to legally handle this work.  The extra time and effort involved in creating these relationships decreases the efficiency of the line. That’s why, for heavy freight shipping, they limit the container weight so they can easily handle the road transportation using standard carriers.  Or, they might accept the heavier container but terminate service at the port, leaving the shipper to arrange the final mile. 

Your cost-savings opportunity

The key to getting more efficient on the water is having carriers that can safely and legally haul heavyweight loads to and from the port – without delays and without transloading. 

This landside capability allows you to add more than 10,000 pounds to every container you ship. The cost of that fully loaded container shipment will be the same. You will simply ship about 25% fewer containers, assuming you can max out your payload for each shipment. That’s where the savings come from.

You will pay more for the expertise and specialized heavyweight trucking equipment required for these non-standard drayage hauls (these carriers are in demand). But that added cost is typically more than offset by reductions in your ocean freight spend. 

Here’s an example.

An importer of plywood was shipping in ocean containers at a max payload of 44,000 pounds.  I.C.E. Transport recommended increasing the payload to over 55,000 pounds and arranging heavy-load carriers to ship from the port to consignees. While the OTR costs rose, the overall freight costs dropped. The customer is now saving $40.95 on every ton shipped because of more efficient ocean shipping.  Based on annual tonnage moved, the strategy will result in a $93,000 yearly savings.

Does this strategy always result in overall savings?  Not always. It will depend on local trucking rates, distance traveled, and how much more weight can actually be loaded into the container. But for high-volume shippers of heavy freight, it’s a simple strategy that can easily yield 6-figure savings.

Who can benefit the most?

Anyone who ships dense, heavy cargo – commodities like bricks, metal, castings, forgings and stone. 

The strategy also applies to consumer goods like water and beer. But for these large-volume shippers ocean freight costs are a huge and very visible number within the company.  Our experience is that they have figured out most, if not all, of the ways they can optimize ocean shipments. For industrial and project cargo shippers, however, there is still an untapped opportunity. 

Forwarders can also leverage the strategy to assist their customers. They key is aligning with a company, like I.C.E. Transport, that has a network of specialized trucking companies with overweight shipping permits in hand. 

Reduce ocean transport costs by maximizing container payload

The irony behind this cost-saving strategy in heavy freight shipping is that the opportunity to reduce ocean freight costs is triggered when cargo is off the water. The overweight trucking piece is the key.

For steamship lines and smaller freight forwarders that don’t have the landside trucking relationships to coordinate global, door-to-door container moves, its simpler for them to assign a “legal” weight limitation to ocean containers that simply does not exist.  

If you are a heavy freight shipper who has come up against this, challenge your existing ocean carriers and forwarders.  Or, seek out a heavy and oversized shipping specialist that can seamlessly handle door-to-door ocean moves, triggering significant savings through smarter shipping.