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Breakbulk & Project Cargo: Conquering Complex Moves

Breakbulk & Project Cargo: Conquering Complex Moves

What is Breakbulk Cargo?

Breakbulk or non-containerized cargo (NCC) is the term used to describe cargo that is shipped as a single unit because the weight, shape, or size makes it incompatible with a standard container.

Before containerization, the phrase “breaking bulk” meant to unload a ship, which had to be done one piece at a time. This changed when Malcom McLean developed the first container ship in 1956. Now, breakbulk only refers to specific cargo that can’t be loaded into a container.

Project cargo describes breakbulk shipments that are especially complex in terms of weight, size, value, or quantity. This type of freight can pose a unique challenge for shippers because of the extensive planning, documentation, and coordination required. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced, reliable transportation partner for these specialized shipments.

Some industries that commonly ship breakbulk include:

  • Military and Defense: boats, tactical vehicles, equipment, base camp supplies
  • Energy: wind turbines, generators, mobile substations
  • Construction: bulldozers, cement equipment, cranes, structural steel
  • Manufacturing: factory machinery, piping, airplane engines

Challenges of Breakbulk Cargo

There are multiple factors that contribute to the complexity of a breakbulk shipment.


Because of increased handling, breakbulk shipping is more expensive than container shipping.

Every piece must be moved individually with specialized equipment, making it much more time consuming than moving uniform containers.

Increased cost can also be attributed to the fact that breakbulk items typically take up more space than containers and can’t be stacked.

There is a possibility for some large cargo to be disassembled and distributed between containers. But even this method includes additional breakdown and assembly costs at each end.

Specialized Equipment

Since breakbulk cargo is often large and heavy, it’s necessary to use specialized equipment built to handle these extremes. Due to the limited quantity and specialized nature, this equipment isn’t always readily available. Additional lead time may be needed for route planning to ensure you have access to the resources needed along the way.

Planning & Coordination

Precise planning is essential to successfully execute a breakbulk shipment, and it starts long before the operation begins. Route planning, compliance, resource allocation, scheduling, insurance, and documentation are among the items that are completed in advance. Once the shipment begins, multiple moving pieces must be coordinated in real time.

Risk Management

Breakbulk (especially project cargo) often involves the movement and handling of high-value items that are on a strict timeline. It’s especially important that possible risks are identified and accounted for to avoid damage, loss, or delay.

Breakbulk Solutions in Action: Mega Generator Supports Power in Puerto Rico

Trailer Bridge’s team of logistics experts understand the intricacies that go into shipping breakbulk and oversized cargo. Recently, the team supported the movement of a 100-foot, 180,000-pound mega-generator from Arizona to Puerto Rico.

The move was handled in coordination with long-time partner ATS International; ATS handled the over-the-road portion of the generator’s journey both stateside and on the island. Trailer Bridge’s roll-on, roll-off barge was used for the ocean transport of the 100-plus-foot piece of equipment.

Together, the TB and ATS teams worked closely to manage efficient and proper scheduling, coordination of the best solution for loading the oversized unit as well as constant communication between operations and the customer.

Connect with a member of the Trailer Bridge team today to explore logistics solutions for your breakbulk and oversized project cargo freight. Take a different approach to building your supply chain with us – one that prioritizes personalized service every step of the way. 

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