Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

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

Out of gauge cargo shipping: top challenges

I.C.E. Transport | Apr 10, 2024 7:30:00 AM | out of gauge


In international out of gauge cargo shipping, equipment doesn’t fit neatly into a container. And guess what? It doesn’t fit neatly into any standard shipping process, either.

Let’s face it, the world’s cargo infrastructure is designed around shipping standard containers in a uniform way. Larger equipment falls outside the norm and adds shipping complexity, cost, and significant risk versus standard cargo. Let’s look at some of those challenges and how to address them.



1. Finding a trucker to transport the load to or from the port

To move out of gauge cargo, a trucking company must be able to provide equipment that’s up to the job. It has to obtain an oversize permit from each state the load will cross, and plan a route where obstacles such as low overpasses won’t cause problems. Not every trucking company can meet those needs. And of the truckers who say they can do it, not all of them provide this service legally and safely.

If you don’t know where to find a carrier, you could waste hours making phone calls and reading reviews on line. And you might still end up hiring a trucker who skirts the law. As a result, you could see your load sidelined at a weigh station, damaged when the truck’s chassis won’t bear the load, or even involved in a road accident that could land you in court.

To avoid trouble: Team up with a freight forwarder that specializes in out of gauge cargo shipping. That service provider will quickly match your load with a qualified carrier.


Case Example: out of gauge cargo shipping

When I.C.E. Transport helped a buyer in Poland transport a CNC (computer numerical control) machine from the seller’s location in Maine, no single carrier could handle the complex move. I.C.E. Transport found a rigging company to retrieve and crate the machine. But it was not feasible to move the machine over the road on the flat rack container that would be needed to load the cargo on the ship.

Thanks to a long-standing relationship with a warehouse in New Jersey, I.C.E. Transport was able to piece together the perfect combination of services. The rigging company transported the CNC machine from Maine on a step deck trailer. At the warehouse, employees transferred the load to a flat rack, blocked and braced the crate, and had it trucked the short distance to the port. With just one phone call, the Polish customer found an efficient and cost-effective solution – and working with a freight forwarder in NJ helped.


2. Choosing a conveyance

By definition, an out of gauge load can’t cross the ocean in a closed shipping container. Instead, you’ll probably choose one of two cargo container types: an open top container, similar to a standard container but without a roof; or a flat rack container, which has front and back walls, but no walls on the sides and no roof.

Shipping lines usually charge the same rates for open tops and flat racks. But each container has its advantages and disadvantages.

An open top is good for over-height loads but doesn’t allow for extra width. When you use an open top, it might be a bit easier to secure your load, because you don’t have to follow standards set by the National Cargo Bureau (NCB) for blocking and bracing of cargo on flat rack containers. But because this box has three immovable walls, you’ll need an overhead crane to load the cargo through the top if you don’t wish to remove the door header.

You can load a flat rack from the side, and it accommodates wider items. But its floor is thicker than the floor of an open top container. So, while maybe you expected to need only a permit for extra width, this container could raise the load by just enough to make you need an over-height permit, too. And when you use a flat rack, you’ll pay for an NCB inspection at the port to make sure the load is properly secured. If the load fails inspection, you’ll have to pay to resecure it.

If your out of gauge cargo is on wheels or tracks, that opens the possibility of using Roll-On/Roll-Off (RORO) vessels. These vessels are designed to carry wheeled or tracked cargo, such as cars, trucks, trailers, machinery, and railroad cars that are driven on and off the ship using their own wheels/power, or on a Mafi trailer – a loading platform for large items. Wheeled Mafi trailers also allow RORO vessels to be used for crated cargo or bulky oversized cargo not on wheels, such as boats or machinery. For more information on whether RORO vessels are right for your OOG shipping needs, read our article: Out of gauge cargo shipping: flat rack or RO-RO?

To avoid trouble: Work with a partner that has handled hundreds of such shipments and understands the state-by-state regulations on maximum height, load distribution, and state-by-state weight limits. That expert will help you choose the safest and most cost-effective container for your load.


3. Managing Weight Distribution

According to a federal requirement called the Bridge Gross Weight Formula, the more an oversize load weighs, the longer the chassis you need to put under it, with more axles underneath. The aim is to distribute the weight of the load so it doesn’t damage the highway. When the truck carrying your out of gauge cargo pulls into a weigh station, if that weight isn’t distributed correctly over the axles, an inspector might pull it off the road – even if the permit shows the right dimensions and weight.

Weight distribution is especially tricky when you ship factory equipment, construction machinery or other huge items that are shaped irregularly, with more weight concentrated in some parts than others.

To avoid trouble: Align with an expert in shipping OOG cargo that understands the technical details of OOG shipping, like weight distribution. If understanding these details is not a full-time job for you, it’s hard to stay abreast of these details and manage the risk.  


4. Providing accurate specifications

A permit for transporting out of gauge cargo over the road must state the item’s height, width and weight. If the numbers on the permit don’t match the actual load, a weigh station inspector or state trooper could sideline your shipment for hours, or even days.

At the port, crews that lift cargo off trucks and onto ships, or vice versa, also need accurate specifications, including the center of gravity, the correct lift points, and other handling instructions. If the details you provide are wrong or unclear – such as to a crane operator – your load might tip, causing a dangerous, expensive accident.

To avoid trouble: If you’re shipping oversize machinery, you’ll probably have a technical drawing for that item, including all the specs you need. Give that information to your transportation partner, along with a copy of the drawing. If you don’t have a technical drawing, use the model name and number to search for one on line. Manufacturers often make this information available. As a last resort, weigh and measure the item yourself. Do it carefully and more than once to make sure you get it right. Then take photos of the item from several different angles, and send all this information to your logistics partner.


5. Securing the load

When an oversize load leaves extra space in an open top or flat rack container, the load could shift while in transit on the road or on the ocean. Shippers use lumber to fill that empty space. They also use straps to hold the cargo in place, and often chains as well. The details—how much lumber, how many straps, how wide the straps should be, how to space them, whether you need chains, etc.—depend on the dimensions and weight of the load.

As we’ve mentioned, when you handle out of gauge transport using a flat rack, that load requires an NCB inspection at the port. Fail the inspection, and you’ll have to pay someone to rework the freight. That increases your costs, and if the delay is too long you could miss your sailing.

When you use an open top container, there’s no NCB inspection. But, of course, you still need to secure the load correctly. If the load shifts in transit, it could get damaged. It might even make the truck handle poorly or roll over, causing an accident, property damage or worse.

To avoid trouble: The NCB offers courses on how to secure cargo. You might also find a publication or an online guide on this topic. If you’d rather leave this job to experts, you can transport an out of gauge load on a flatbed trailer to a warehouse near the port, where an experienced provider of transloading services will transfer it to a flat rack or open top and take care of blocking and bracing.

If you really want to manage your risk on these more complex moves, consider marine cargo insurance. The cost of insurance doesn't come anywhere near the amount you'd pay to replace the damaged equipment. And carriers won’t make you whole, even if an accident is their fault. For example, if you load a container with $500,000 worth of machinery and that load gets damaged, the carrier may pay only $500 for the loss. The more your load is worth, the more it makes sense to purchase insurance.


6. Controlling the total cost

Your out of gauge cargo will cost more to ship. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • When you use a specialized container, the shipping line typically adds $250 or $500 to your bill. And that’s just for the container, not the load itself.
  • You’ll pay more for OOG shipping if the load takes up more than one slot on a container vessel. For instance, if a load sticks out two feet on either side of a flat rack, the shipping line can’t fit a container immediately to the left or right.
  • Many marine terminals charge higher handling fees for oversize containers than for conventional boxes. RORO terminals also impose handling charges. You probably won’t see those terminal fees itemized on any invoice. Usually, the steamship line includes them in its total rate for shipping the container.
  • You’ll pay extra for specialized equipment like heavy-duty forklifts and cranes, if needed.
  • You’ll pay more to transport this cargo over the road using heavy cargo trucking companies.

While the safe transport of your equipment is paramount, the added expenses noted above cut directly into your profit. Here are some Pro tips to minimize these out of gauge cargo shipping expenses.

Give very clear, detailed instructions. OOG shipping involves more providers, more paperwork, more regulation, and more specialized equipment. This added complexity can result in delays and increased costs. The only way to combat this complexity is with effective communication of detailed information to all involved. That takes time and focus. If it’s time you don’t have, then make sure you align with an out of gauge transport expert who can handle this detail work and communication on your behalf.

Buy from a location that makes sense. If your seller is located near Philadelphia, transporting oversized equipment to a container terminal in New Jersey is not all that expensive. But if the seller is in Oklahoma, that’s a more complicated and costly proposition. Figure out the cost of transportation to the port before you make your purchase. If the numbers don’t add up, look for a similar product in a better location.

Don’t use the ocean container for last-mile transportation. If you transport your OOG load all the way to the final destination in an open top container, flat rack or platform, the trucker will charge you for returning the empty container to the port. Unless the final destination is near the port, it’s usually cheaper to transfer the cargo to a specialized truck chassis for the final leg of the trip.

Keep it clean. If you’re shipping earth moving equipment internationally, even a few streaks of mud on the undercarriage could get your shipment turned away. It’s not that the inspectors are neat freaks; they’re just following regulations to keep invasive species out of their countries. So when you buy construction equipment in the U.S., before you have the cargo loaded for shipping overseas, arrange for a pressure wash to get rid of all traces of dirt and debris.

Dis-assemble equipment. In some cases, you can decrease your costs by transforming an out of gauge shipment into one or more standard-sized loads. Removing the tires on a backhoe is one example of how you can ship an otherwise non-standard load in a standard container, saving big and eliminating the need for an oversize permit.


Lower the load, lower the cost

A customer once asked I.C.E. Transport to help it ship an unusual item, an antique horse-drawn hearse. To reduce the cost and keep from exposing this beautiful carriage to salt water, the shipper wanted to use a closed container rather than an open top. But the hearse was too tall.

Then I.C.E. hit upon a simple but effective trick—remove the wheels and stow them alongside the hearse. That cut the height by just enough to fit the shipment in a conventional ocean container.


Get expert assistance for out of gauge cargo shipping

To meet the challenge of shipping an oversize load, you need to understand all the tradeoffs and potential pitfalls. If you don’t have that kind of know-how in house, your surest road to success is to collaborate with an experienced partner for out of gauge cargo shipping.

Have an out of gauge shipment on the horizon? Call the specialists at I.C.E. Transport.



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