How to Ship Heavy Equipment - The Complete Guide

How to Ship Heavy Equipment - The Complete Guide

Freight brokers, shipping companies, governments, and freight haulers each perform a crucial role in keeping global shipping supply chains moving. The new normal has called for better planning and greater flexibility when dealing with rapid shifts in production, trade, and shipping patterns. Over the past two years, the industry has anticipated change and implemented appropriate response measures.

Clients who ship heavy equipment can also play their part by decreasing friction along the way. This guide, on How to Ship Equipment, offers an overview of factors to consider and can reduce the cost to ship heavy equipment. Although it’s cliché, knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better decisions you can make when partnering with a carrier.

Shipping Methods

There are four standard methods for transporting heavy machinery: containers, LoLo, RoRo, and flat rack. The transport methods you choose will depend on how you want your equipment to arrive and whether it requires specialized shipping to accommodate its abnormal size. In some cases, a combination of these techniques may be required, and in almost all, flatbed trucking is required to transport cargo to its intended destination.

Container Shipping

Container Shipping

Container shipping as we know it today was invented in the USA in 1956 by Malcolm McLean, who was responsible for making intermodal transportation seamless and efficient. The Free Dictionary provides the following definition of this shipping model: “To package (cargo) in large standardized containers for efficient shipping and handling.”

If you are importing or exporting goods in bulk, container shipping offers beneficial economies of scale, flexibility, and standardization. Container shipping uses standard-size containers of 20, 40, 45, and 53 feet. They are built to international standards, offering greater convenience between shipping, rail, and truck companies.

The numerous types of containers include open-end, open-top, open-side, half-height, flat-rack, refrigerated, liquid build, and standard dry cargo. Shipping containers are used to transport goods all over the world, due to their large volume capacity and safety, as each container is completely sealed during transit.

The LoLo Method

Short for lift-on/lift-off, the LoLo Method is the practice of loading and unloading containerized cargo over the top of a shipping vessel using cranes or derricks. LoLo ships usually have onboard cranes for this purpose and can accommodate larger container capacity, allowing for greater cargo transportation.

The cost to ship heavy equipment with the LOLO system exerts far less toll on the environment, as vehicles do not have to be driven onto the transporting vessel, which automatically offers a greener alternative.

Roll-on / Roll-off

The RoRo method entails driving vehicles directly onto a ship and maneuvering them into place, rather than lifting them by crane. Motorized vehicles like cars and tractors drive onto the vessel on their own wheels, while equipment not self-propelled is placed on handling equipment with wheels and rolled on and off the vessel.

This process always entails using more than one transportation method since vehicles have to be loaded onto trains or lorries to get to the departing port and then from the arrival port to their final destination.

Flat Rack Transportation

Flat rack transportation containers are especially suitable to ship heavy equipment and machinery that needs loading from the top or sides. These practical racks only have sides on the bulkheads, so cargo can stick out during transportation. Flat rack containers come in collapsible and non-collapsible options, with or without walls, although the latter is more common.

These versatile containers come in standard 20ft and 40ft sizes. Most have forklift pockets, while some 40ft containers have gooseneck tunnels at both ends for safe and easy transportation. This kind of container is ideal for massive, bulky, and heavy-duty cargo that cannot regularly fit into a standard container due to wall and roof constraints.

Flat racks are manufactured from strengthened steel to maintain their rigid, sturdy structure. For sensitive cargo, heavy-duty tarpaulins are used to protect goods in transit. The cover is usually secured to the container structure with pad eyes, lashing rings, and clamp locks. Flat racks may also be left open if the cargo is impervious to the elements.

Information You Must Provide to Your Shipping Company

The cost to ship heavy equipment may land up being far more if you don’t provide your shipping company with the correct cargo details. Freight details are essential, especially if you’re transporting heavy equipment across states or overseas. Freight companies will generally ask for the following:

  • The equipment’s model and make.
  • A list of any modifications (if any) the equipment has gone through.
  • Precise dimensions and weight. The margin for error is small, as even the slightest miscalculation may lead to using different trucks and containers, which just delays delivery time and costs more.
  • You will need to inform your service provider if your cargo needs to be tarped, crated, or palletized.
  • Photos are also recommended as they are clear visual references that provide your chosen transportation company with an exact idea of what your heavy equipment looks like. A few different angles are helpful to understand scale and dimension.

What Determines The Cost to Ship Heavy Equipment?

The price of tracking cargo, insurance, packaging materials, mileage, and broker fees all contribute to overhead costs. Density, destination, insurance, and priority primarily affect the cost of shipping heavy machinery.

  • Density (size and weight) accounts for the costs that come with equipment pickup, handling, delivery, and type of transport.
  • Your shipment’s destination will increase fuel usage and price and may incur additional tariffs and customs fees.
  • Expedited shipments will always be more expensive due to the additional efforts of carriers to ensure shipments make delivery on a tighter deadline.
  • Insurance (undoubtedly a must-have) will cost more for bulkier and irregular or rare-model equipment.


Freight density is the space an item fills in relation to its weight. When it comes to transportation, the heavy space equipment occupies is just as important to carriers as its weight because empty space is unconducive to cost-effective freight transportation.

Density also determines freight class. According to the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), there are a total of 18 freight classes (standardized shipping industry pricing classifications), ranging from 50 to 500. The higher the freight class, the more it costs to ship.

How to Calculate Density

Freight density is the space an item occupies in relation to its weight. It provides carriers with vital information needed to get your shipment moving. When calculating the density of heavy equipment and machinery, you should always include packaging and palettes. For instance, bulky or oddly shaped loads, like excavation equipment, with protruding arms, may need additional space to accommodate its outlying extremities.

To calculate your shipment’s density, follow this formula:

  • Step 1: Height x length x width = total cubic inches
  • Step 2: Divide the total cubic inches by 1,728 (the number of cubic inches in a foot) = total cubic feet
  • Step 3: Divide the weight of your shipment by its total cubic feet = pounds per cubic feet, which equals density.

For multiple machinery or equipment, add the weight of each piece together before dividing by the total cubic feet of shipment and round fractions to the nearest full cubic foot number.


Since the arrival of the pandemic, delivery times have simultaneously shortened and been delayed. Same-day arrivals for retail goods are possible, while travel restrictions and mass online shopping have skyrocketed demand and disrupted supply chains. When the busiest ports cause bottlenecks in the supply chain, fuel and delivery costs can increase.

But the pricing of heavy machinery shipping depends on the volume of the cargo just as much as it depends on the underlying costs. If capacity is limited, carriers are inclined to sell space at a premium. However, if the business is slow, they may offer a more competitive rate. This, too, may be dependent on seasonal surges.

When speed is a prerequisite, and heavy machinery shipping requires expedition, cost-efficiency is no longer a priority. Packages can take less-cost effective routes and are more expensive concerning fuel and labor. Hence, expedited shipping comes at a higher cost.

Freight Brokers

For some businesses, it’s not worthwhile figuring out how to ship equipment. Instead, they hire freight brokers to arrange shipping between a carrier and a shipper to get heavy equipment to its destinations safely, in the least amount of time, and at the best price. Reputable freight brokers maintain an extensive network of carriers to enable convenient, worldwide shipping.

Most importantly, their expertise makes them a useful resource when transporting a range of heavy equipment, each of which may have its specifications. Freight brokers with a robust track record will have likely dealt with similar, if not the same, challenges that come with shipping heavy freight and be familiar with the requirements.

An average broker fee ranges from 15% to 20% of the total shipping cost, though numbers can go higher than that. Although they do come at a price, a good and invaluable freight broker can save many costly mistakes if you’re inexperienced with freight shipping best practices and industry protocols.


Insurance shipping

Most dependable shippers offer limited liability coverage, meaning the final amount of coverage is determined by the commodity type and defined by their insurance. This doesn’t fully cover a shipment’s value. To receive the maximum amount of a carrier's coverage liability if something goes wrong, you will have to prove the equipment was correctly packed and undamaged at the pickup.

Bear in mind, weather conditions and natural disasters do not always result in the carrier being completely liable. Hence, having insurance guarantees your heavy-duty equipment is covered, regardless of what happens. Compared to liability coverage, freight insurance offers greater peace of mind and will pay out faster.

Before partnering with a carrier, you should calculate what the maximum liability coverage is for shipping large machinery. It’s best to take out insurance if your cargo’s value exceeds the carrier’s payout, especially when the machinery is fragile or expensive, and you don’t have time to wait for claim processing in the event of damage or loss.


Freight carriers use shipping zones to help determine shipping costs. Whether local or international, a single shipping zone consists of a group of zip codes measured from where the package is shipped from (the point of origin) to its destination. Hence, distance is measured in groupings of zip codes and not miles.

The greater the distance to the delivery point, the higher the cost. Note that distance is typically measured from the center of the zone, so it won’t necessarily decrease costs if you ship heavy equipment from the zone’s periphery. Most carriers set a pricing structure based upon these zones. However, this calculation isn’t always linear, as the equipment’s weight may also affect pricing in different zones.

Moreover, shipping overseas may also incur additional costs, including demurrage, detention, and even custom inspection fees. Due to the elaborate nature of freight transportation and fulfillment, the best method of shipping your heavy machinery is to hire a reliable freight company that can take care of such complexities.

Heavy Equipment Shipping Requirements

To handle heavy equipment, you’ll need to consider the following to ensure it arrives safely at its destination:

  • Does it need to be disassembled and reassembled for transit?
  • Even if it’s possible to ship it in a single container, is it more cost-effective to break it down into smaller components?
  • Will the equipment be shipped by air, sea, land, or a combination of these?
  • Does the equipment require custom blocking and bracing?
  • Will the equipment require special protection from corrosion, such as heat-sealed vapor barriers, film barriers, vapor corrosion inhibitors, or any other forms of safety packaging?  
  • How many days in advance do you need to inform the destination point of delivery?
  • Is a crane needed to offload the machinery?
  • Most shipping journeys involve a truck. Is the container designed to withstand hazardous road conditions?
  • Do you need to remove excessive aggregate, dirt, debris, or other substances from the machinery that may cause friction during transit?

If you are transporting heavy equipment for the first time, be sure to check the machine’s user manual for the manufacturer's shipping recommendations. If you no longer have the manual, it may be possible to locate it online.


The cost to ship heavy equipment can be hefty, both in time and price. It’s a time-consuming process with multiple variables that deserve careful consideration to keep supply chains on track. As such, there really is no replacement for hiring experts to design and execute optimal shipping solutions.

We hope this guide on How to Ship Equipment has provided valuable insight to assist with your heavy machinery shipping needs. Alternatively, you could also outsource your shipping to DFW trucking company! We have over 35 years of freight shipping experience and know exactly how to ship equipment, especially heavy machinery. Find out more about how we can help here. Get a freight transportation quote!

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