Imagine a freight truck. Inside that large, rectangular cargo carrier is a set amount of space. After decades of shipping, freight carriers have figured out how to maximize the utility of that space by determining how many linear feet of freight (or cargo) can be stowed at once. Packing a freight truck is both art and science, and if you understand how to calculate the linear feet of the cargo, you’ll achieve maximum efficiency while making sure your shipment is delivered on time.
However, because carrier companies rely so heavily on the precision of freight measurements, miscalculations can be costly. It happens often. People don’t know how to measure their shipments, and as a result, incur large fines that could be easily avoided.
Thankfully, calculating a linear foot is not rocket science. However, on top of being able to measure this useful unit, it’s important to understand the different ways that load the shipment, and how the linear foot fits into the grand scheme of freight shipping.
What is a Linear Foot?
There are various ways to measure a linear foot, but before you’re able to measure it you first have to understand what exactly it is. In the simplest terms, a linear foot is 12 inches—the length of a ruler. If you live in the United States or Canada, and someone asks you your height, your response is typically conveyed in linear feet.
In mathematical terms, a linear foot is twelve consecutive inches. Rulers – the plastic, wood, or metallic measurement device – are typically one linear foot, or twelve inches, in length. However, if you’re going to measure freight, a ruler is not the most effective tool for measuring. Often, the best tool is a tape measure, which can typically unspool for 20+ linear feet without any breaks. By using this tool, you’re able to achieve precise measurements. It’s also possible to use soft tape measures, which are essentially the same thing but without the hard shell that surrounds the tape.
How Are Linear Feet Different From Other Measurements?
When it comes to freight shipping, many of the most common terms you come across have to do with volume. Volume is the measurement of three-dimensional space and is often connoted by terms such as “cubic feet.” This measurement attempts to capture the three-dimensional space that freight will take up. With these measurements on hand, carriers are able to better package all of the goods that they need to ship.
Linear feet, however, is a much simpler measurement. In fact, it might be the simplest – but most important – the measurement that you’re going to have to make as a shipper. The word “linear” means straight. When you’re asked to measure the number of linear feet that your cargo will take up, you’re being asked to measure how long, in terms of square feet, the total length of your shipment.
Why Are Linear Feet Important For Shipping?
When carriers are trying to determine the cost of your shipment, or if you’re shipping something and want to make an estimate yourself, linear feet are the relevant measurement. There is only so much space in a single trailer, and if you know how many linear feet your cargo takes up, you’re able to receive a highly specific quote that helps you plan the rest of your budget.
- Per-Foot Adjustment Rate. Many shipping companies will offer you a per-foot adjustment rate, which means that if you exceed or take up less space than you originally accounted for, you will be either charged or deducted a certain amount.
- Cost Estimation. Carriers want to give you the most accurate quote that they can, and in order to do that they need to know how much space you’re going to take up on the truck. Providing an accurate measurement in linear feet allows them to make that estimation.
Linear Foot Rule
In the transportation industry, the linear foot rule is a standardized way to charge shippers for the goods that they transport. It applies to LTL, or less-than truckload shipments. This is an affordable shipping option that means your freight will be sharing the same truck space with other shipments.
The linear foot rule stipulates that for shipments that take up 10 linear feet or more are charged for 1000lbs per linear foot. When you ship something, you need to check with your carrier and make sure that you’re not violating their linear foot rule. Doing so can lead to excessive penalties that can greatly increase your BOL (bill of landing).
Freight carriers generally apply the cube rule to freight that is light and low density but takes up a lot of space. Because items like shrink-wrap or ping-pong balls can take up a lot of physical space – think about the packaging – but do not weigh very much, it can be misleading to measure them according to the linear foot rule.
Cubic feet differ from linear feet in that it’s a three-dimensional measurement. That means that instead of measuring it by simply taking a straight measurement, you have to measure in three different dimensions. Once you’re able to furnish the cubic foot measurement, the carrier is able to assign you a freight class that matches the goods you’re attempting to ship.
While there are several variations on both of these shipping options, there are essentially two main methods that the entire carrier industry utilizes. Understanding the differences between the two can save you a lot of money and knowing how to leverage your linear foot measurements can help you take advantage of the space available to you within the truck.
Compared to TL, or truckload shipping, LTL is an affordable shipping option. It means that the goods you’re shipping will share cargo space with other shipments. Basically, everyone who has a shipment on the truck pays for the amount of space they take up.
Once you understand how LTL shipping works, it becomes clear why linear feet are an important measurement for carriers. They need to determine how to charge customers, and if they have a standardized measurement like linear feet to base their estimate they are able to provide accurate quotes.
Truckload or TL shipping is a more expensive option, but it’s great for people who want to make sure that their shipments receive special care. Instead of sharing the truck space with other shipments, TL shipments take up the entirety of the truck. For this reason, measuring linear feet is a less significant calculation if you choose to ship this way.
However, there are some other benefits to TL shipping that should be noted.
- When you ship TL, it’s more likely that your shipment will arrive on time. This is because the carrier has to deal with fewer deliveries and thus a lower chance of running into a delay.
- Shipping TL ensures that your goods will be handled less. Because it will be the only freight on a given truck, it won’t have to be moved around until it reaches the final destination.
Shared truckload service, which enables several shippers to share trailer space in one multi-stop truckload, takes a familiar concept (sharing) and applies it to the trucking industry to help shippers and carriers create optimal shipping outcomes.
By giving shippers the power to decide how their freight moves and incentivizing carriers to travel efficiently, the shared truckload approach flips the outdated freight system on its head and offers a revolutionary alternative.
With shared truckload service, shipments that are traveling on a similar route move on the same truck. Freight travels directly from its pickup location to its destination — without passing through hubs or terminals. This process provides shippers, carriers, and the planet with more benefits than any other mode.
Refer to the image below from our shared truckload white paper for a detailed breakdown of the linear feet requirements for each freight mode.
Avoiding Extra Fees Using the Linear Foot Rule
When shippers fill out paperwork for their carrier, they typically have to state how many linear feet the shipment is going to take. Understanding how to properly measure and document this dimension will prevent you from having to pay unnecessary fees.
Take Accurate Measurements
In far too many cases, the shipper will take inaccurate measurements. This is often because they don’t know exactly what they are supposed to be measuring. If your freight is going to be placed on a pallet, it’s essential that you include the size of the pallet in your final estimation.
Failing to properly measure your goods can result in fees in the form of adjustment rates. Carriers will often stipulate what this rate is beforehand. This number is calculated by taking the difference between the claimed measurements and the actual measurements. Often, the shipper will not intentionally try to fool the carrier, and carriers are aware that mistakes happen. However, when they are provided with incorrect size information, they are forced to make unanticipated adjustments, delay shipments, and can potentially upset other customers who accurately reported the size of their shipment.
Clarify How Your Freight Needs to be Loaded
Not all freight is loaded in the same way. Because of differences in size and weight, sometimes shipments must be handled differently. When you’re filling out the paperwork before you ship, make sure that you specify if your freight requires special treatment. If you don’t, it might prove costly to hire extra help last-minute.
Check the Dimensions of the Trailer
What’s the point of measuring the linear feet of your freight if you don’t know how much space you have to fit it in? Not all trailers are the same size, and what might fit easily in one might not even come close to fitting in another. Before you attempt to load your freight at the terminal, make sure that you’ve checked the dimensions of the trailer and confirmed that you’re going to be able to fit your shipment.
If you’re the one who is going to load your shipment on a trailer, there are a few things you have to do to make sure that the trailer is ready to safely carry your shipment.
- Double-check that the area is clean and dry. Depending on the contents of your shipment, moisture can potentially ruin whatever’s inside and result in a wasted shipment.
- Be honest with yourself about your ability to load the shipment. Frequently, shippers take on too much weight, or end up using tools improperly, and end up seriously hurting themselves. Take the time to honestly assess your ability to load your goods, and don’t be shy about asking for help or hiring extra hands.
Straight loading is perhaps the simplest way to load pallets into the trailer, but it’s not the most effective use of space. It’s done by lifting the pallets with a truck and sliding them directly into the trailer.
If pallets were perfect squares, this would be the easiest method, but most are 48×40 inches. Given these dimensions, loading the pallets straight into the trailer results in empty space. This empty space also makes it possible for the pallets to slide around during transportation and can potentially create a hazard. However, straight loading is by far the quickest method, and many companies have decided to sacrifice the space achieved by pinwheeling (which we’ll get to in a second) for the efficiency of straight loading.
Side loading, compared to straight loading, is a method where you enter the pallets into the truck sideways. By using this method, you end up taking up all of the room between the inner walls of the truck, but you still run the risk of having the pallets slide around. They don’t interlock, and as a result, can potentially create a hazard during transportation.
Pinwheeling is the most effective method for loading freight into a truck. It’s achieved by altering the direction of every pallet so that they fit snugly against one another. When you pinwheel, the interlocking pattern creates stability and allows you to get the most out of the space in the trailer.
Armed with a comprehensive understanding of linear feet, you should be able to save money on your next shipment, avoid unnecessary fees, and complete your shipment preparation in an efficient manner. While the concept of linear feet is simple, its application in shipping is extensive. Understanding the ins-and-outs of its various uses can prove enormously helpful next time you plan a shipment.