step deck trailer

Step Deck Shipping: How to Choose the Right Solution for Your Freight

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Matthew Schore
Step Deck Shipping

Not all cargo is created equally. Some freight is heavier than most, some is longer, and, for lack of a better word, some is just unique. Transporting longer cargo can be troublesome, especially when considering the hurdles, which include legal height and weight limits across the country. This is where step deck shipping plays a significant role.

Although step decks are designed to carry longer cargo, you don’t match any step deck with just any cargo. There are a few things to consider, such as height, weight and distribution, type of truck, axle configuration on the truck, and drop deck (could be single or double). Choosing the right step deck for your freight goes a long way to determining the trip’s success.

Obviously, you don’t want to put cargo that is too heavy or too long in a step deck truck that is not designed to carry it. In this article, we will review how to choose the right step deck and explore in detail what the transportation process entails.

The Basics of Step Deck Shipping

Step deck shipping is a type of open deck shipping. However, unlike the typical open deck that is just a straight flatbed, the step deck is shaped like a set of two stairs. The front step (or upper step) is usually higher but shorter in length. The rear deck (or well) is deeper and much longer. The idea is to conveniently and legally carry cargo so high that you would ordinarily need a permit. When done right and depending on the overall height of the cargo, you may not need the permit at all.

Structures and Dimensions of a Step Deck Trailer

The structures and dimensions of an open deck trailer are modified to facilitate the type and nature of cargo the step deck trailer carries. The step deck trailer’s foundation is designed and built with high-strength steel. This ensures the bed is sturdy enough to transport heavy cargo for an extended period without collapsing. The deck is made up of a mixture of crossbeams and treated wood, and, as we mentioned earlier, it is divided into two parts: upper and lower decks.

In front of the deck is the landing gear, which allows you to lower or raise the trailer bed. This comes in particularly handy during the loading and unloading process. Finally, the axle suspensions come in different sizes and can significantly impact the cargo-hauling experience. You want to get a step deck trailer that comes with the right axle suspensions.

The trailer bed is usually 40 to 53 feet long and about 8.5 feet wide. The height of the rear deck or well may vary, but this is because different step decks can carry cargo with varying heights. The design of the well also plays a role in the overall structure of the step deck trailer.

Step Deck Shipping vs. Other Flatbed Options

Step deck shipping has much more versatility compared to other flatbed options. It can carry longer and unique types of cargo. Flatbed cargo, on the other hand, is limited in height.

The step deck shipping experience is more complex and requires specialized labor and equipment to load and unload the cargo. This makes it more expensive compared to other flatbed options.

Types of Cargo Suited for Step Deck Shipping

To be hauled on a step deck truck, the cargo must be heavy and long enough to be outside of ordinary road regulations. Some examples of these are:

  • Bulldozers.
  • Drilling rigs.
  • Excavators.
  • Cranes.
  • High-pressure storage tanks.

Industries Relying on Step Deck Shipping

The industries that rely on step deck shipping typically use heavy pieces of machinery that are usually not moveable on their own. Moving a crane or a drilling rig are two examples of when step deck shipping would be needed. They are as heavy as they are long, and there is only so much space for even the largest vehicles. You would be hard-pressed to find another method of shipping such equipment other than leveraging step deck shipping. The industries that use this type of shipping are typically the:

  • Construction industry.
  • Agricultural industry.
  • Manufacturing industry.
  • Oil and gas industry.
  • Maritime industry.
  • Building industry.
  • Arts and entertainment industry.

The Versatility of Step Deck Shipping

Step deck shipping cuts across different industries and can help transport pieces of equipment that cannot be transported as a regular flatbed load. The upper deck on the step deck shipping serves a purpose, which is to help support some of the weight or parts of the transported cargo.

Beyond excavators and cranes, step deck shipping can help transport complicated and delicate sculptors, luxury ships, concert equipment, prefabricated buildings, large transformers, and oversized propeller aircraft. Step deck shipping is as versatile as the trucking industry is large. It also comes in handy for businesses across various industries trying to navigate difficult terrains and/or neighborhoods as safely as possible.

What to Expect in Step Deck Shipping

A typical step deck trailer is about the same size as flatbed options (40-53 feet long and 8.5 inches wide). However, this is with the exception of the wells. There are usually two types of wells in step deck shipping: the single drop deck ( 3-4 inches deep) and the double drop deck (about 5-6 inches deep). The problem with step deck shipping is that it is almost always limited to carrying unique or really long cargo, which is not the nature of most cargo out there.

Step deck shipping is unique, but so are most industries that typically use it. For instance, in the agricultural and construction industries, it is expected that there isn’t much going on during the winter months. The same issue applies to the oil and gas industry, where maintenance is done periodically to avoid disruption in production.

What this means for the step deck shipping business is that there will be fluctuations in demand, and orders may come in differently than they would for ordinary flatbed options.

Regulations and Safety in Step Deck Shipping

Step deck shipping must always comply with federal regulations for transporting heavy materials or equipment across the roads. Some of these regulations are height, weight, and cargo securement. You should note that the shipping regulations and standards for step deck trucking are similar to those of other flatbed options.

The height of the cargo must be at most 11.5 feet tall, while the width and length have to be contained in the truck’s 8.5-foot-wide and 53-foot-long trailer bed. Regarding cargo securement, these regulations state the type, placement, and number of tie-downs to be used relative to the cargo size.

Complying or adhering to these safety regulations can go a long way toward preventing accidents, disruptions, and unwanted attention. It can also improve the efficiency of the shipping process and enhance the trucking company’s reputation.

If the cargo is too tall for the step deck trailer, weighs too much for the bed, or exceeds the width and height of the trailer bed, then you will need the services of pilot cars. The pilot cars serve as the eyes and ears of the step deck truck. Both drivers are in constant communication with each other. The drivers in the pilot cars go before the step deck trucks to identify tricky, tight, or difficult terrains. They also help them with additional flashing lights to give them better visibility and warn other vehicles about the truck.

Practical Guide to Preparing Cargo and Step Deck Trailers for Shipping

When using step deck shipping, there are practical things to implement before you begin the journey. This entails choosing the right step deck cargo and adequately selecting the right truck and trailer to be used. This is very important if you want to ensure your cargo’s safety, compliance, and protection.

Before selecting the step deck trailer you want to go with, there are a few essentials to tick off the list, such as length of the step deck trailer, weight of your cargo, loading, and unloading requirements, type of cargo, permits needed in the shipping process, and the distance and route of the step deck vehicle.

When you have checked off all these, it is time to prepare your cargo for shipping. Here are some guidelines that will help you.

  1. Documentation: Ensure your cargo has all the necessary documentation before you embark on the trip. This will help prevent unnecessary delays in the shipping process.
  2. Measure and Weigh: The step deck trailer is strong, but not the strongest surface in the world. You must calculate the load’s weight, height, and other dimensions to ensure it fits into the step deck trailer.
  3. Securement: The step deck is an open trailer, which means your cargo must be secured to the trailer bed to prevent movement while the truck is in transit. To do this effectively, ensure you use the recommended securement tools and follow regulatory guidelines.
  4. Protection: Because it is an open trailer, your cargo is at the mercy of the elements. Rain, wind, dust, and so on can affect and potentially harm the cargo. If the cargo is sensitive to any of these, you will want to take measures to protect it adequately.
  5. Weight distribution: Although the step deck may be able to carry the cargo, uneven weight distribution will make it difficult to transport the cargo effectively. It will also affect the balance of the cargo, potentially impacting trailer stability and handling.

It is important to work effectively with trusted carriers to ensure a successful shipment. To do this, you will need to effectively communicate your expectations to the carrier, understand its capabilities, insist on visibility and transparency throughout the process, and ensure clear terms are negotiated before the start of the trip.

Partnering with A.N. Webber for Step Deck Shipping

When seeking to utilize step deck and open deck shipping, you need to get in touch with a partner with the experience, expertise, and infrastructure to ensure a seamless shipping experience. One such partner is A.N. Webber.

With A.N Webber, you have a shipping powerhouse that allows shippers to streamline freight operations with custom shipping solutions tailored to their business and cargo. We have our hands in everything related to shipping, whether you want our step deck and open deck shipping solution, dedicated services, LTL, or our warehouse and distribution services.


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