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What Is Break Bulk Shipping? All You Need to Know

What's in this article?
  1. A Brief History Of Break Bulk Shipping
  2. The Difference Between Break Bulk Shipping And Bulk Shipping
  3. Bulk Shipping
  4. Break Bulk Shipping
  5. The Disadvantages Of Break Bulk Shipping
  6. The Benefits Of Break Bulk Shipping
  7. Break Bulk Shipping And Oversized Cargo
  8. Break Bulk Shipping And Affordability
  9. Break Bulk Shipping And Smaller Port
  10. Break Bulk Shipping And Separate Containers
  11. Examples Of Items Transported By Break Bulk Shipping
  12. How To Handle Break Bulk Shipping Cargo
  13. Packaging That Can Be Used In Break Bulk Shipping
  14. Bagged Cargo For Break Bulk Shipping
  15. Fiberboard Boxes And Cartons For Break Bulk Shipping
  16. Wooden Cases And Crates For Break Bulk Shipping
  17. Bales For Break Bulk Shipping
  18. Drums, Barrels, And Casks For Break Bulk Shipping
What Is Break Bulk Shipping? All You Need to Know

Break bulk shipping refers to shipping the type of cargo that cannot fit into a standard shipping container or cargo bin. The shipment is usually shaped differently or is more significant than usual and is either hauled using crates, boxes, drums, etc., or rolled onto the ship and transported in that way.

The type of cargo shipped using the break-bulk method includes vehicles, steel panels, manufactured equipment, or equipment used for construction. Break bulk shipping is becoming a more popular form of hauling and has increased use by shipping companies.

A Brief History of Break Bulk Shipping

As you can imagine, the shipping industry was a lot more complex before modern-day containerization. Cargo needed to be loaded and unloaded individually using wooden crates or tubs, and the process, in general, would take a lot longer. There were also many risks involved when breaking bulk shipping, such as theft, damaged cargo, or accidents.

From the early 1960s, containerization became a new improvement to the shipping industry and made shipping cargo across the globe more efficient and less dangerous.

The Difference Between Break Bulk Shipping and Bulk Shipping

There are many differences between break bulk and bulk shipping, and one can tell the difference by looking at cargo, nature, handling, trade, capacity, and infrastructure, amongst other aspects.

Bulk Shipping

Bulk shipping refers to cargo that is transported loosely in a container. The shipment is not packed and is usually loaded straight into the container. The type of cargo transported in bulk shipping is dry cargo, such as grain and coal.

The types of ships that transport cargo using bulk shipping are known as Bulk Carriers, categorized according to their Deadweight (DWT) capacity.

The DWT of a ship refers to the maximum amount of weight it can carry and includes people on the ship. Therefore, the most important thing is to ensure that the cargo does not outweigh the DWT of a ship.

In this way, we can see that bulk shipping is different to break bulk shipping in that the cargo is not oversized or awkwardly shaped.


Break Bulk Shipping

The difference between bulk shipping and break bulk shipping is that staff do not need to dismantle items to be shipped efficiently. Ships that carry oversized items are known as Multi-purpose, Break Bulk, or General Cargo Vessels.

The cargo can be loaded below, between, or on deck, and the shipment may belong to more than one customer.

A significant advantage of break bulk shipping is that the cargo can be unloaded at any port and does not need a dedicated port.

Also, Break Bulk Vessels can be gearless, which means it doesn't have cranes. Thus, a gearless ship can only unload at a port with the correct handling equipment for the cargo.

Alternatively, when a Break Bulk Vessel is geared, it has cranes and can unload its cargo at any port.

Cargo transported on a Break Bulk Vessel can be charged based on volume or weight. In this case, whichever figure is higher will determine the price.

The method of shipment will depend entirely on the cargo.

The Disadvantages of Break Bulk Shipping

Break bulk shipping brings a few disadvantages, such as being more expensive than using containers to transport goods and requiring more workforce to ensure that the oversized item will be loaded safely onto the ship. Also, these items may need to stay in specialized warehouses due to their size.

Furthermore, these oversized items may cause much damage to both people on the ship and the ship itself. Therefore, many resources are needed to ensure these items are safely loaded and unloaded.

The Benefits of Break Bulk Shipping

However, as much as break bulk shipping has its downfalls, it has even more benefits. Such as the movement of oversized goods that cannot fit into a standard-sized container and a decrease in the amount of time spent on deconstructing and reconstructing these large items.

Furthermore, benefits include these goods having access to smaller shipping ports, which can also be shipped separately. We will discuss these advantages in more detail below:

Break Bulk Shipping and Oversized Cargo

As mentioned above, break bulk shipping allows companies to haul these oversized goods in one go. Furthermore, the ships transporting the items have deck cranes that can lift the item off the ship and load it onto the port.

Another method to load and unload oversized items is high deck strength barges that can safely roll the item off the ship.

Break Bulk Shipping and Affordability

Secondly, companies will automatically save money because they do not need to dismantle the shipment. Also, less manual labor will need to be done, saving more time.

Furthermore, due to the cargo being rolled on or rolled off of the ship, fewer fees will need to be paid for storage or hiring containers.

Break Bulk Shipping and Smaller Port

Thirdly, break bulk shipping allows shipping companies to use smaller ports when transporting oversized items or goods that cannot fit into the standard-sized shipping container.

Access to various ports means more oversized items are more readily available as they can deliver to any port.

Break Bulk Shipping and Separate Containers

Break bulk shipping allows for items to be transported without using separate containers to do so. Thus, these goods are hauled as is, without complications.

Thus, you can see that there are many benefits to break bulk shipping that makes it a more accessible option in some respects. However, break bulk shipping was the first form of shipping used, and it was not until the 1960s that containers began taking over the shipping industry.

Examples of Items Transported by Break Bulk Shipping

As you may know, break bulk shipping is used if the hauled cargo cannot fit comfortably into containers. It may be as a last resort or a specialized type of transportation for abnormal items. Examples of items that shipping companies can transport via break bulk shipping include:

  • Large equipment
  • Vehicles
  • Structural steel
  • Drums
  • Barrels
  • Reels
  • Sacked cargo
  • Bagged cargo
  • Corrugated and wooden containers

Any heavy and oversized item that cannot fit into a container must journey using break bulk shipping.


How to Handle Break Bulk Shipping Cargo

Staff needs to handle cargo exceptionally safely and with caution. Below, we will discuss how to deal with bulk shipping effectively. Staff will store break bulk cargo on a flat surface, as the shape of the shipment may not fit otherwise.

Before the ship can leave the port, there needs to be confirmation that the cargo is stored safely on board the vessel. The apparent reason for this is that the shipment's journey is safe and risk-free.

The staff on the ship will determine the safety of cargo, and if the shipment is deemed unsafe and not secure enough, the ship will not be allowed to leave the port. Also, staff will closely observe the loading process to prevent any protruding parts of the cargo from causing damage.

Before the cargo is loaded, there should be dimensions given for the actual item. These dimensions, however, may not be accurate, emphasizing the importance of the loading process being observed and monitored.

Packaging That Can Be Used in Break Bulk Shipping

The staff on the break bulk ship need to ensure that they package items correctly before the ship can begin its voyage. There are different packaging types when hauling cargo using the breakbulk shipping method.

Bagged Cargo for Break Bulk Shipping

The cargo will be packaged in bags or sacks and should be strong enough to withstand any pressure during the journey. Such items can include sugar, cement, coffee, seed, or fertilizer.

The important thing is that the bag is robust enough to protect the cargo from contamination. These bags-made from paper, plastic, polypropylene, or open mesh plastic fiber- are breakable. Consequently, handling these bags must be done carefully to prevent tears.

Fiberboard Boxes and Cartons for Break Bulk Shipping

Fiberboard boxes are one of the most economical forms of material used to store cargo with break bulk shipping due to being cheap and robust enough to withstand any exterior pressures. When using fiberboard boxes, the best way to load them onto the ship is to use securely strapped pallets.

Wooden Cases and Crates for Break Bulk Shipping

This form of packaging is more expensive than fiberboard boxes but is much more sturdy as it offers a more secure structure for the cargo. Wooden crates- built in a skeleton form- are aimed at shipment that does not need to be carefully packed.

One thing to be mindful of is that heavier items are placed at the bottom when loading cargo.

Bales for Break Bulk Shipping

Examples of cargo that are shipped in bales are things such as tobacco, wool, rubber, and skins. Hessian is the most common material used when making bales, and adding a high-value second layer of the cargo will make a huge difference.

Hand hooks may be used when moving bales; however, it is best to avoid this when loading and unloading high-value cargo.

Drums, Barrels, and Casks for Break Bulk Shipping

The best cargo to use with drums, barrels, and casks are liquids, such as whiskey, molasses, chemicals, oils, or chemicals. However, as with any other dangerous item, cargo that is dangerous in break bulk shipping should be clearly labeled to warn anybody who comes across these drums, barrels, and casks.

Rope slings-used to lift drums, barrels, or casks-is the best way to handle them. Staff can also use mechanical equipment to move these. However, staff must ensure that the drums, barrels, and casks are not pierced during the process.


Therefore, we have discussed the difference between bulk shipping and break bulk shipping. Break bulk shipping is the earliest form of shipment and used to be very time-consuming. People would need to load and unload the cargo manually, and it took much manual labor to ensure people did this correctly.

However, there are significant advantages to breaking bulk shipping. Break bulk shipping can be more cost-effective in some respects, as the company would not need to hire out a container and pay container fees. Also, bulk shipping can access more ports that can offer a place to unload the shipment.

So, although there has been a massive shift from break bulk shipping to containerized shipping, break bulk shipping is still a popular choice for shipping companies. A1 Auto Transport can offer support within this area and deliver a service that will ensure safe and secure delivery.

Our services are included all around the globe, and we have delivered an array of services to customers. So get in contact with us today to find out if there is any way we can help you figure out what the best option for you is.

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Joe Webster always knew the auto transport industry would be a great career option. And with decades of experience, Joe is now an established consultant for A1 Auto Transport.

Joe was born in Santa Cruz, California. During high school, Joe worked as a mechanic; a job continued to work part-time during his bachelor's degree.

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus Drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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