Shipping Heavy Equipment: A Helpful Guide

Published on
Nov 8, 2018
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Shipping heavy equipment

Shipping heavy machinery can seem like a monumental task to those uninitiated into the freight shippers’ universe, and yet, from Dubai to Caracas, Dublin to Kathmandu, the backhoes, tractors, and factory equipment that help to build our world reach their destinations day by day. This seemingly impossible task is accomplished, in large part, thanks to a carefully choreographed dance played out by freight brokers, shipping companies, manufacturers, government officials, and freight haulers all over the globe. Keeping the delicate mechanism of this dance greased and moving requires a breadth of knowledge and experience, however, this helpful guide to shipping large machinery should go a long way towards bringing you into the fold of the heavy machinery shipping club.


Heavy machinery shipping is not a new phenomenon, and thus many options are available to best get your shipment where it needs to go. Shipping companies (or haulers) are ready and willing to bid on your shipment. These companies all have reputations and histories, most of them readily available for scrutiny on online message boards and review sites. However, before choosing any shipping company it may be a good idea to get verbal references from previous clients. Hearing firsthand about another’s experience with a shipping company can give you insight into what exactly to expect.Another important aspect of heavy machinery shipping is deciding exactly how best to ship it. The methods of shipping heavy machinery are myriad and most will be determined by the load’s size and shape. The following are four methods of shipping heavy machinery that are the most commonly used by today’s premier shipping companies:

Container shipping

The old standby of the shipping world, container shipping allows for easy loading and unloading of freight conveyed in standard twenty or forty-foot containers. However, when shipping large machinery it may not be feasible to fit your shipment into a standard container. This may result in the need to disassemble your heavy machinery and equipment in order to make fitting it into a container a viable option. There are pros and cons to this, the greatest pro being the ease of equipment transport, while the biggest con would be the labor and time it takes to disassemble and assemble the machinery. If container shipping is not something that will work for your particular shipment then the following methods may fit your heavy machinery shipping needs.


Also known as LoLo, Lift−on/Lift−off is the practice of using a crane to simply lift your heavy equipment and machinery directly onto, and subsequently, off of the appropriate shipping conveyance. In theory, LoLo is a relatively simple method of heavy machinery shipping, however, the necessity of a crane capable of lifting and moving your load, as well as specially trained crew to operate the crane can lead to shipping machinery costs that might otherwise be avoided if your load has the capability to roll.


Roll−on/Roll−off, or RoRo, is the simplest way to load and ship, provided your shipment has the enviable ability to be rolled. Wheeled heavy machinery can be easily loaded onto all manner of shipping conveyances, whether those are trailers, containers, or ship decks. This ability will save you time and money, the only downsides being the space wheeled machinery tends to take up and the logistical difficulties of stacking wheeled machinery to maximize space.

Flat rack shipping

A flat rack container solves the problem of stacking and trailer compatibility for shipping heavy machinery. In essence, a flat rack is a shipping container without sidewalls or a roof, allowing a shipper to mount their heavy haul onto the stackable surface of a container without being confined to its dimensional restrictions. This is an incredibly common practice in heavy machinery shipping as the standardized twenty to forty-foot container bottoms will fit on all trailers and at the top of container stacks. The downside is that you are, in essence, leaving your heavy machinery shipment open to the elements. However, if you are worried about the risk of damage due to exposure, you may be able to avoid such damages by tarping or carefully packaging your shipment beforehand. It is important to note that any extra work, such as shrink−wrapping, tarping, or disassembly, done by haulers or handlers will incur extra costs to you, the shipper. Considering that heavy machinery shipping can already be expensive, it is important that you have a plan beforehand to adequately protect your shipment and ensure it can be hauled. It may be the case that disassembling your heavy machinery and shipping it on separate pallets or in a container could prove to be a more helpful and cost-effective way of getting it where it needs to go.


The cost of shipping heavy machinery is based on a number of mitigating factors, the four most important of which are: density, priority, insurance, and destination. Density is the standard of measurement used by the shipping world to gauge the dimensions (size and weight) of the machinery you are shipping. The density of your shipment will account for much of the calculated cost of its pickup, handling, and delivery, as well as determine what manner of conveyance is appropriate and safe for shipping your large machinery. The priority of your shipment can also be a huge factor in cost, as urgent shipments will always be more expensive due to the efforts of haulers and handlers to make delivery on a tighter schedule. Insurance is especially necessary when shipping heavy machinery, no matter the urgency, as the possibility of damage due to accidents multiplies with the size and irregular nature of the item being shipped. The last major pricing hurdle is the destination. Whether shipping heavy machinery one hundred or three thousand miles, the price will scale with the distance your shipment must go. Your shipment’s destination may also incur costs on a state−by−state or country−by−country basis as tariffs and permits may be required. Let’s dive a little deeper into these factors!


The density of your shipment will determine nearly every aspect of your shipping needs, from the method, to cost, to ease and speed of delivery. The fact is that when shipping large machinery, many of the standard practices of the shipping world must be laid to rest in order to accommodate the irregularity of the loads. Whether it's an aircraft engine, a tractor, or even a boat, your hauler has to be able to make concessions to the unique size, weight, and shape of the heavy machinery being shipped. This is where density and its measurement come into play.

Calculating Density

Density, in a word, is the pound per cubic foot weight of your shipment. Whether it is being shipped on a pallet, in a container, flat racked, or lift−on/lift−offed, density tells a hauler much of what they need to know about your shipment’s dimensions in order to get it moving. It should be noted that when calculating the density of your shipment, it is important to always include any pallet or packaging used. Irregularly shaped loads, like tractors, should be considered as if they were in a square box tailored to their shape (this means calculating height, width, and length to include any outlying extremities such as antennas or masts) when determining the dimensions of the load. The equation to find your shipment’s density is outlined in the following three steps:

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

Once your density has been calculated, you are well on your way towards determining which shipping options are best for you, your company, and your wallet.


How fast do you want your heavy machinery to get where it needs to go? Sometimes we're faced with moments that test our ability and resolve. In the case of urgently shipping heavy machinery, those are not the only qualities that will be tested. The costs incurred can be hefty, however, there are means by which you can complete those rush orders in a timely, cost-effective, and graceful manner. Usually, this will necessitate the hiring of a knowledgeable third-party logistics firm to help get your heavy machinery where it needs to go. The fact of the matter is no helpful guide can suitably prepare you in time to meet a hard shipping deadline at the eleventh hour. For those with heavy machinery shipping needs that are not necessarily urgent, then there are ample tools and tips out there to get you, at the very least, familiar with the language of shipping. For those seeking solutions today, it may be beneficial to contact a freight broker in order to expedite priority shipments.

Freight brokers

The complicated nature of shipping heavy machinery (especially urgently) may necessitate that the shipper has a consultation with a licensed and experienced freight broker. If you’re wondering what a freight broker is, a freight broker is a third-party expert who connects shippers with carriers (or haulers). On the surface this may seem unnecessary, however, a good freight broker can be as invaluable as the freight itself. Freight brokers are industry professionals with years of on-the-job education and experience, who will fight to get your heavy machinery shipping needs to be met in a safe and affordable manner. By linking up only the most reputable and able carriers with their shippers, employing a freight broker is a great way to ensure someone is prioritizing your shipping needs and getting your machinery to its destination in the most timely of manners.


When shipping large machinery it is essential that you have freight insurance to cover any damage that may result along the way to its destination. It is standard practice for most shipping companies to offer, at the very least, basic insurance policies on anything they are transporting. The extraordinary nature of heavy machinery shipping may require more than just a basic policy as it comes with a multitude of risks to both the freight and the hauler. Shipping heavy machinery is, by virtue of its size and density, a more complicated shipping process than simple container shipping and, therefore, merits more caution. It is possible to purchase third-party insurance for your shipments as well as better policies from most shipping companies. The cost of your shipment will rise, but in the end, it may be the difference between a total loss and recuperation should the worst occur.


So you have found the best method of shipping your heavy machinery, you have calculated the costs of shipping something of its density and the insurance policies that will fully cover its loss or damage and the priority at which you want it shipped. So what’s next? The destination. The country or state to which you are shipping large machinery can, in and of itself, have unforeseen costs attached. These might be by way of tariffs, licensing fees, or tolls, any of which can hike up the price of your shipment substantially. It may also be the case, depending on the route taken, that inspections and new laws may hinder or slow delivery. The best way of mitigating any risks of having your heavy machinery shipment stopped, impounded, or returned is to make sure your shipping company is up to date on any laws or treaties that govern shipping services across borders, be they state or international.


Heavy machinery shipping can be a costly and time-consuming process but the successful completion of such a shipment is usually worth dividends upon delivery. Shipping heavy machinery is one of the more complicated tasks accomplished by the shipping world. Do not be afraid to seek guidance or assistance from third-party logistics experts or freight brokers. These industry professionals can assist you in your quest to get your heavy machinery shipped in the most efficient and cost−effective manner. A helpful nudge in the right direction may be all you need to get you going on the road to shipping even the heaviest, most awkward of loads. We hope this helpful guide has provided that nudge and given you a jumpstart on your path to fulfilling your own heavy machinery shipping needs. If you have any more questions about shipping heavy machinery, please contact us today!