Cargo shipping controls the pace of more than half of global trade. Each note, each movement represents a unique method of transportation; all necessary, all significant.

One such method plays a crucial role in the break bulk cargo shipping—a cargo shipping method that, while often overlooked in favour of more contemporary options, continues to serve as the backbone of international trade.

In the following sections, we’ll recognise the unique role of break bulk cargo shipping in global trade and discuss its significance, benefits and types, and all the intricacies of break bulk cargo shipping.


What do you mean by Break Bulk Cargo?

Break bulk cargo – a term that may sound complex but whose concept and usage underpins much of the world’s heavyweight transportation.

At its core, break bulk cargo refers to goods that are transported in units, separate from each other, instead of being loaded into the shipping containers that seem to be everywhere.

These units may include bags, barrels, crates, drums, or any item that needs to be individually loaded, unloaded, or handled.

If we consider the diversity of products that grace our lives – from the food we eat to the machines that build our homes – it’s easy to see how break bulk cargo penetrates numerous industries.

Let’s take the construction industry as an example. Imagine a towering crane, its components too hefty and irregularly shaped to be squeezed into a conventional shipping container.

Or consider the energy sector, where gigantic windmill blades, transformers, and turbines must be moved across oceans despite their overwhelming size and unique shapes. These are perfect items for break bulk cargo.


Benefits of Bulk Break Cargo Shipping


Affordability of Break Bulk Cargo Shipping

When it comes to moving cargo, particularly large and unwieldy items, cost efficiency is a prime consideration. Break bulk shipping often comes out on top in terms of affordability. In cases where cargo doesn’t fit neatly into standardized containers, break bulk shipping bypasses the need for special equipment or containers, leading to significant savings.


Suitability for Oversized, Heavy, and Out-of-Gauge Cargo

Imagine trying to fit turbine blades or construction cranes into a standard shipping container. Challenging, isn’t it? Break bulk cargo shipping fills this gap, excelling in the transportation of oversized, heavy, or out-of-gauge cargo.


Capability to Utilise Smaller Ports

One of the underrated benefits of break bulk shipping is its ability to utilize smaller ports. Not every port can accommodate large container vessels; this is where break bulk shipping shines. Smaller or less-developed ports can handle break bulk cargo, allowing regions or industries with limited access to large ports to participate in global trade.


Flexibility of Break Bulk Cargo Shipping

Break bulk cargo shipping offers a level of flexibility that is hard to beat. Since cargo is handled individually, adjustments can be made based on the goods’ type, size, or shape. This flexibility can be critical when dealing with unusual cargo, from large pieces of art to military equipment.


Potential for Special Handling and Care

Break bulk cargo shipping allows for special handling and care of the cargo. This advantage is significant when dealing with delicate or high-value cargo, which may require special attention during the loading, transit, and unloading processes.


Different Types of Break Bulk Cargo


Project Cargo

Project cargo refers to the shipment of large, complex, high-value, heavy pieces of equipment, often associated with large-scale projects like construction, infrastructure, and energy sectors.

Project cargo distinguishes itself from other types of break bulk cargo due to its complexity and the need for special handling and coordination.


Heavy Lift Cargo

As the name suggests, heavy lift cargo involves exceptionally heavy items, often weighing 100 tons or more! Shipping such cargo can be challenging due to their weight and the special requirements for loading, transporting, and unloading. You’ll find items such as cranes, yachts, or large pieces of machinery being categorised as heavy lift cargo.


Out-of-Gauge Cargo

Out-of-gauge cargo refers to goods that don’t fit into standard shipping containers due to their dimensions. These could be long, tall, wide, or oddly shaped items that simply can’t be squeezed into a 20-foot or 40-foot box. Think propellers, industrial boilers, or windmill blades.


Non-Containerized Cargo

Another category in the break bulk cargo spectrum is non-containerized cargo. This includes items that, due to their size, shape, or other factors, cannot be shipped in standard shipping containers. An example could be large construction equipment or factory components.


Roll-On/Roll-Off Cargo

Roll-on/roll-off cargo, also known as RoRo cargo, includes items driven onto and off the ship. This could be cars, trucks, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, and railroad cars. The roll-on/roll-off method makes loading and unloading these vehicles convenient.


Liquid Bulk Cargo

Liquid bulk cargo encompasses liquids that are transported in bulk, including oils, fuels, chemical products, or even juice concentrate. The challenge here is maintaining the integrity of the liquid during transportation, ensuring no leaks or contamination occurs.


Dry Bulk Cargo

Lastly, we have dry bulk cargo, which refers to dry materials, typically in granular form, transported in large quantities. This includes commodities like grains, coal, or iron ore. Like liquid bulk cargo, dry bulk cargo also requires special handling during shipping to prevent loss or contamination.


Break Bulk Cargo Packaging



When it comes to the break bulk cargo, bags play a crucial role. These aren’t your everyday plastic or paper bags, though; they’re specifically designed to withstand the rigours of maritime shipping. Items such as grains, coffee, cement, and similar goods are frequently packed in these specially crafted bags. Standard sizes are often 25 or 50 kg, though this can vary based on the nature of the cargo.


Crates and Corrugated Boxes

Crates and corrugated boxes represent another common packaging choice for break bulk shipping. These sturdy containers can be made of wood or plastic and are often used for transporting goods such as machinery parts and even fruits. Corrugated boxes, sometimes made of cardboard or fiberboard, are still robust enough to protect the cargo inside.

Depending on their grade, corrugated boxes can resist various degrees of moisture and inclement weather.


Barrels and Drums

For liquid cargoes like oils or certain alcoholic beverages, barrels and drums are the go-to packaging options. While barrels or wooden casks are sometimes chosen for goods like whiskies, metal drums are more common for oils and similar products.



Pallets, made from either wood or plastic, come in various sizes, with the standard pallet and the euro pallet being the most recognized ones.

Pallets are essentially portable platforms on which goods are stacked and secured, making loading and storing goods onboard a ship much easier. Their sturdy structure allows them to support a large amount of weight, while their flat surface and uniform dimensions make stacking simple and efficient.



Break Bulk Cargo Loading and Unloading


Preparing the Vessel

Before any cargo is loaded onto the ship, it’s essential to prepare the vessel’s storage spaces thoroughly. This involves a comprehensive cleaning process in which the ship’s holds are washed, cleaned, and dried. This process is crucial to ensure the cargo’s safety and prevent any contamination that could occur from residues of previous cargoes.


Securing the Vessel

Securing the vessel involves mooring it to a pier or anchoring it in a safe location, ready to accept the cargo. In this phase, the cargo to be loaded is also prepared. It is packaged properly and labelled clearly to ensure correct handling throughout shipping.


Loading the Cargo onto the Vessel

Once the vessel and cargo are prepared, the loading process begins. This can involve bringing cargo from warehouses to the dock and using heavy lifting equipment such as cranes to move the cargo from the dock onto the vessel. Proper placement of cargo within the ship is crucial. Balancing the weight evenly across the ship helps maintain its stability during the voyage, ensuring a safer transit for the cargo.


Securing the Cargo

Once the cargo is loaded onto the vessel, it must be secured. This involves tying it down, using straps, or employing other securing methods, depending on the nature of the cargo.


Unloading the Cargo from the Vessel

Upon reaching the destination, the process is reversed to unload the cargo from the vessel. Cranes or other lifting devices are commonly used, carefully lifting and moving the cargo from the ship to the warehouse fulfilment centres.


Inspecting the Cargo for Damage

After unloading, the cargo undergoes an inspection to detect any potential damage that might have occurred during the voyage. Any damages are reported immediately to ensure they are addressed and repaired before the cargo is delivered to the final destination.


Preparing for the Next Load

Once the cargo has been unloaded and inspected, the focus shifts to preparing the ship’s stowage space for the next load.



With the surge in containerization, one might wonder if break bulk cargo still holds its ground. The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ Countless items defy the edges of standard containers. Their varied shapes, sizes, and unique handling requirements make break bulk shipping an irreplaceable method in cargo shipping.

So, the next time you wonder at an impressive piece of machinery, remember that they’ve likely made part of their journey as break bulk cargo, crossing oceans and continents to reach you.





What is the difference between container and break bulk cargo?

When comparing container and break bulk shipping, several factors come into play. Container shipping often tends to be more cost-effective for general cargo, mainly due to the efficiencies gained from standardized handling and loading processes. Moreover, it often offers a quicker transit time due to less handling at the ports.

On the other hand, break bulk shipping, despite being more labour-intensive and often more costly, offers a solution for cargoes that simply don’t fit into containers. It’s the go-to choice for oversized or heavy goods, machinery, or project cargo.


What is break bulk vs OOG?

Break bulk refers to cargo loaded individually onto a ship rather than in containers. Break bulk was the most common form of shipping until the advent of containerized cargo in the mid-20th century.

Out-of-Gauge cargo, on the other hand, refers to a type of break bulk cargo where goods exceed the standard dimensions of a shipping container in terms of height, width, or length.


Is break bulk an LCL?

Break bulk and Less than Container Load (LCL) are not the same. While bulk cargo is handled individually, LCL cargo is combined with other shipments in a single container.

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