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Flatbed Shipping: Everything You Need To Know For Your Business

By
AN Webber Logistics

Flatbed shipping, an essential cog in the logistics machinery, provides a practical solution for transporting oversized, heavy, or irregularly shaped loads, serving as the lifeblood for a variety of industries. From construction and manufacturing to agriculture and mining, flatbeds efficiently carry goods that other methods simply cannot handle.

If you are a decision-maker in one of these industries, having a comprehensive understanding of flatbed freight and shipping is crucial to optimizing your logistics, reducing costs, and ensuring smooth operations. This guide breaks down the nuances of this mode, offering in-depth insights into this vital aspect of transportation. Let's explore the possibilities and challenges of flatbed shipping and help you make informed choices for your business.

What is Flatbed Shipping?

Flatbed shipping, also called open-deck shipping, is a unique segment within logistics known for its characteristic open-air and flat trailer design. The lack of enclosures gives this method unmatched versatility in transporting large items like machinery, construction materials, pipes, steel coils, concrete slabs, and much more. This unrestricted design also simplifies loading and unloading freight from various angles — the top, sides, or back, making it a go-to solution for cumbersome cargo and locations without standard loading docks.

While the essence of shipping flatbed freight lies in its flexibility, several additional factors set it apart from other shipping methods:

  • Securing Freight: In flatbed shipping, cargo is firmly secured with chains, straps, and tarps to protect it during transit and ensure it stays in place, providing a safeguard against the elements and road conditions.
  • Regulations: Flatbed shipping operates under specific regulations designed to ensure the safety of both cargo and the general public. These encompass load limits, proper cargo securing methods, and rules for hauling oversized items.
  • Industry Usage: Flatbed shipping is indispensable to various industries, including construction, manufacturing, automotive, and oil & gas, to name just a few.
  • Special Equipment: Depending on the cargo, flatbed shipping can utilize specialized trailers like refrigerated flatbeds for perishable goods or multi-level trailers for transporting automobiles.

Understanding these points is the first step to leveraging the full potential of flatbeds for your business needs.

Flatbed Trailer Types and Capacities

Shippers have multiple options for flatbed trailers – selecting the right one is ultimately determined by the freight’s size, dimensions, weight, and loading requirements.

A.N. Webber Infographic Flat Bed Shipping revised081623 01
  • Standard Flatbed: The most common type of flatbed trailer, it typically measures 48 or 53 feet long, with a load capacity of around 48,000 pounds. These trailers are versatile and used for a wide range of cargo.
  • Stretch Flatbed: This is an extended version of a standard flatbed, designed for transporting extra-long loads. The length can be extended up to 80 feet, and the capacity is similar to a standard flatbed.
  • Step Deck or Drop Deck: These trailers have a lower deck to accommodate taller loads. The upper deck is usually 11 feet long, and the lower deck is 37 feet long, allowing for loads up to 10 feet tall. The load capacity is typically around 48,000 pounds.
  • Double Drop: This type of trailer has two drops in deck height — one right after the gooseneck and the second right before the wheels. This allows for the transport of particularly tall and long items. The load capacity is similar to a standard flatbed.
  • Removable Gooseneck (RGN): These are specialized trailers designed for heavy equipment (like bulldozers or industrial equipment). The front detaches, allowing the trailer to be used as a ramp. Loads on an RGN can be taller than those on a standard flatbed because they sit lower to the ground. The capacity can handle up to 150,000 pounds, depending on the number of axles.
  • Conestoga Flatbed: This standard flatbed has a flexible retractable cover (similar to a covered wagon), protecting cargo from weather and road conditions. The capacity is typically around 42,000 to 45,000 pounds.
  • Multi-level or Car Hauler: These are specialized trailers for transporting vehicles. They have multiple levels and can carry up to 12 standard-sized vehicles.

Understanding flatbed trailer types and their unique capabilities ensures your freight's successful and safe transportation. You can optimize your shipping strategy and transportation costs by aligning your cargo's specific requirements with the appropriate trailer.

Overcoming Challenges in Flatbed Shipping

Flatbed trucking and shipping provide flexibility and convenience for oversized cargo, but it also comes with unique challenges. Fortunately, you can mitigate these complexities with careful planning, strategy, and the right transportation partners. Below are several flatbed shipping challenges and tips for overcoming them.

  • Load Securing: Given the open nature of flatbeds, loads must be properly secured with chains, straps, or other equipment to prevent movement or damage during transit.
  • Tip: Invest in high-quality securing equipment like chains, straps, and tarps, and train your team on proper securing techniques to ensure cargo remains stable during transit.
  • Weather Conditions: Since cargo on a flatbed is exposed, adverse weather conditions like rain, snow, or high winds can damage goods or make transport more dangerous.
  • Tip: Consider weather forecasts when planning flatbed shipments to avoid potential issues. Use tarps and covers to protect your cargo should it encounter adverse weather in transit.
  • Route Planning: Oversized or heavy loads may require special routing to avoid low bridges, narrow roads, or areas with weight restrictions, complicating route planning.
  • Tip: Use modern routing software to plan the safest, most efficient routes. Keep in mind the dimensions and weight of your load to avoid roads with restrictions.
  • Permitting: Depending on the size and weight of the load, special permits may be required for transportation. Securing these permits can sometimes be time-consuming and complex.
  • Tip: Start obtaining any necessary permits well in advance. Some states offer annual permits for repeated routes, which can save time and effort.
  • Loading and Unloading: The open nature can make flatbed delivery easier, but it also requires appropriate equipment and trained personnel to ensure it's done safely and efficiently.
  • Tip: Ensure your team is trained in safe loading and unloading practices and has the appropriate equipment on hand to prevent accidents or damage to the cargo.
  • Cargo Safety: Flatbed cargo is more exposed to potential theft or vandalism during stops due to its open nature. Extra precautions may be necessary to protect valuable goods.
  • Tip: Implement security measures like GPS tracking, seals, and locks, especially for high-value cargo. Plan your routes to minimize stops in high-risk areas.
  • Regulations Compliance: Compliance with federal and state regulations for load limits, securing cargo, driver hours, and other factors requires substantial knowledge and oversight.
  • Tip: Stay up-to-date on federal and state transportation regulations. Consider working with a compliance consultant or use compliance software to ensure you're meeting all requirements.
  • Cost Fluctuations: Costs for flatbed shipping can fluctuate based on factors like fuel prices, demand, and availability of drivers, which can make budgeting and cost planning a challenge.
  • Tip: Establish strong relationships with reliable flatbed carriers to help ensure consistent capacity and potentially better rates. Consider long-term contracts with carriers for your regular, consistent lanes and shipments.

Overcoming the complexities of flatbed shipping is about being proactive, strategic, and adaptable. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity for optimization, pushing your logistics toward new levels of excellence.

Understanding Flatbed Shipping Rates

Flatbed shipping rates are determined by a myriad of factors, starting with the characteristics of the load itself. The distance to be covered directly impacts costs, with longer routes necessitating more fuel, driver time, and vehicle wear and tear. The physical properties of the load also matter. Larger and heavier loads exert more strain on the vehicle and may require special routing, permits, and special handling, which adds to costs. Finally, the pickup and delivery must be considered, as remote areas or locations with low freight volume often result in higher rates due to the additional resources required to reach these places.

The second piece of the puzzle lies in market dynamics and other miscellaneous factors. Market demand significantly influences costs, with high demand periods or conditions leading to inflated flatbed rates. Fluctuating fuel costs and special requirements like expedited shipping, tarping, team drivers, and road tolls will likewise add to the final rate. Lastly, regulatory compliance — adhering to federal, state, and local regulations such as driver hours of service — can impact the total cost. By understanding each of these elements, you'll be better prepared to estimate and manage your flatbed shipping expenses.

Tips for Securing the Best Flatbed Shipping Rates

With so many factors impacting flatbed trucking rates, it is essential to know your shipment details and requirements when requesting rates and booking capacity with carriers. These tips further ensure that you get the best, most accurate rates for your flatbed freight.

  • Plan Ahead: The more lead time you can provide to your shipping provider, the better. This allows them to plan schedules and capacity more efficiently, which can result in lower rates.
  • Compare Quotes: Request quotes from multiple providers to ensure you're getting the best rate. Be sure to compare the services included in each quote for a like-for-like comparison.
  • Negotiate: Don't be afraid to negotiate with flatbed shipping providers. Particularly if you have consistent flatbed freight available, you may be able to secure better rates.
  • Consider Off-Peak Times: If possible, schedule your shipment during off-peak times when demand is lower and capacity is more readily available.
  • Optimize Your Load: Make sure your load is as compact and lightweight as possible. The less space and weight your shipment takes up, the lower your rate may be.
  • Consolidate Shipments: If you have multiple smaller flatbed shipments, consolidating them into a larger shipment often results in a lower overall rate.
  • Long-term Contracts: If you have regular shipments, consider entering into a long-term contract with a carrier. They may offer lower rates for the guaranteed business.
  • Choose the Right Type of Flatbed: Different types of flatbeds have different rates, particularly specialty trailers. Choose the one that best suits your load to avoid unnecessary charges.
  • Use a Freight Broker: Some freight brokers have relationships with a large flatbed carrier network and can often secure better rates than you might be able to on your own.

Choosing a Reliable Flatbed Shipping Partner

Choosing a reliable flatbed shipping partner, whether it's a carrier or a freight broker, is crucial to ensuring your goods arrive safely and efficiently at their destination. With their industry expertise, these partners can expertly navigate the complexities of flatbed shipping and provide tailored solutions to meet your specific needs. Let's explore the critical factors to evaluate when choosing your flatbed shipping service provider.

  • Reliability: Does the partner have a good track record for on-time delivery and cargo safety? Check their reputation and reviews to get an idea.
  • Equipment: Does the provider have the right type of flatbed trucks and equipment for your specific cargo needs?
  • Experience: How much experience do they have with your type of cargo? Experience can greatly impact the safety and efficiency of the shipping process.
  • Insurance and Liability: Does the provider have adequate insurance coverage to protect your goods in transit? Make sure their liability coverage meets your requirements.
  • Pricing: Consider their rates and how they fit with your budget. Be sure to understand what is included in the price and what could result in additional charges.
  • Customer Service: How responsive and helpful is their customer service? Good customer service can be crucial, especially if issues arise during the shipping process.
  • Tracking and Technology: Do they provide tracking capabilities or use other technology to enhance the shipping process? This can provide peace of mind and improve logistics planning.
  • Compliance: Ensure the partner complies with all relevant federal, state, and local regulations, as non-compliance can result in fines or other issues.
  • Flexibility: How flexible is the provider in accommodating special requests or handling unexpected changes?
  • Network: Do they have a wide network that can handle your shipping needs, both now and in the future?

Choosing the right flatbed shipping partner demands careful consideration of numerous aspects. As we dive deeper into the world of flatbed shipping, let's look at how intermediaries like freight brokers can add further value to your shipping operations.

Master Flatbed Shipping with the Right Freight Broker

Partnering with a freight broker or a third-party logistics provider (3PL) can significantly improve your flatbed shipping experience. They connect you to a vast network of transportation providers, opening doors to an array of shipping options and providing flexibility that matches the ebb and flow of your flatbed shipping needs.  Risk management, an integral part of a broker’s services, ensures cargo safety, compliance with regulations, and adequate insurance coverage. Additionally, a broker’s freight volumes and relationships can be leveraged to negotiate competitive rates, leading to noticeable cost savings for your shipments.

A broker’s expertise goes beyond connecting shippers and carriers. They bring to the table seasoned logistics knowledge, backed by advanced technology. This combination ensures efficient route planning and shipment tracking and also offers customized solutions based on your specific needs. And while they handle the complexities of the shipping process, you can focus on what you do best – your core business operations.

With this in mind, A.N. Webber stands out as a premier flatbed shipping 3PL partner. Their robust asset-based fleet and full truckload freight brokerage network ensures coverage, be it short haul, long haul, or nationwide. They bring together advanced technology and decades of logistics expertise to offer comprehensive and flexible shipping solutions, while prioritizing transparency and offering real-time visibility to every shipment. Their Shipment Price-Lock guarantee ensures the quoted price is the final price, providing budget certainty. But what truly sets A.N. Webber apart is their personalized attention. Your needs and goals drive their services, making flatbed shipping operations a seamless part of your business.

Ready to experience the A.N. Webber difference? Contact us today for a quote or consultation.

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