When the item you ship is too tall or wide for a regular shipping container, that’s called out of gauge, or oversize, cargo.
Just as out of gauge freight doesn’t fit neatly into a box, out of gauge transport doesn’t fit into a simple process. This kind of international shipping comes with complicated challenges. So it takes special skill and experience to manage a successful transit.
What kinds of challenges are we talking about?
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. Then you could see your load sidelined at a weigh station, or even damaged when the truck’s chassis won’t bear the load.
To avoid trouble: Team up with a freight forwarder that specializes in transporting out of gauge cargo door to door. That service provider will quickly match your load with a qualified carrier.
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 overheight 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.
To avoid trouble: Work with a partner that understands the pros and cons, plus the state-by-state regulations on maximum height, weight and load distribution. That expert will help you choose the safest and most cost-effective container for your load.
3. 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, that could cause problems during transfers, possibly damaging your cargo.
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 service provider
4. 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 ship out of gauge cargo on 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 moves around 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.
5. Controlling the total cost
As we’ve seen, mistakes can increase the cost of out of gauge transport. To minimize your total expense, it’s important (for example) to provide the right figures for permits and secure the load properly.
In some cases, you can also lower your cost by transforming an out of gauge shipment into one or more standard-sized loads. If you disassemble a large machine, or remove its accessories, will all those pieces then fit into a standard container? If so, congratulations! You’ve just reduced your ocean rate substantially and eliminated the need for an oversize permit.
In some cases, it can pay to ship accessories in a standard container while using roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) service for the machine itself.
To avoid overspending: Work with an experienced transportation partner that can help you steer clear of costly mistakes, recommend creative ways to save money on out of gauge shipments and weigh the advantages and costs of different options.
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 with out of gauge transport
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 transportation partner.
Have an out of gauge shipment on the horizon? Call the specialists at I.C.E. Transport.