What is Bulk Break in Shipping? The New Way to Ship

Dec 8, 2022

It is estimated that 80% of all goods are transported by sea. But what makes sea freight so popular? It’s proven to be one of the most cost effective methods of transportation for large quantities of goods. If you are looking to move large, bulky items like construction materials, vehicles, machinery or steel, bulk break shipping may be for you.

In this article, we will answer what bulk break in shipping is, how it differs from break shipping and what the general rates are.

What is break shipping?

To best understand what bulk break in shipping is, let us first unpack break shipping.Break shipping refers to sea freight that transports containerised goods, or goods in cargo bins. Break shipping is often used to transport materials like bulk grain, iron ore or oil that are loaded directly into a container or cargo bin on a ship in bulk, rather than in an itemised form.

What is bulk break shipping?

The bulk break shipping definition is to transport cargo as individual pieces rather than in a container. The term originates from the saying ‘breaking bulk’, which refers to unloading the contents of a container.

A bulk break ship is not so much a type of ship, but a reference to the type of cargo it carriers. Although, you will find that bulk break ships also carry their own cranes to make loading and unloading bulky items easier than dockside crane solutions. This sets them apart from break ships.

What items are transported via bulk break shipping?

Bulk break in shipping is used for a range of oversized, heavy equipment such as:

  • Steel and other construction materials
  • Barrels or drums
  • Bagged or sacked cargo
  • Vehicles and boats
  • Large machinery such as bulldozers
  • Large pieces of equipment.

While the list can go on, the general rule of what makes cargo suitable for bulk break shipping is that it cannot fit in cargo bins or standard containers.

Bulk break shipping items can either be stored above or below deck, depending on how fragile it is, and therefore how protected it must be.

How are bulk break shipping items compartamentalised?

When bulk break shipping is used to transport items, a number of methods are used to ensure cargo is secured and safe from the elements that sea freight endures.

The method will depend on what the item is and how much reinforcement or protection it requires. If the cargo can stand alone, like a vehicle, then it is loaded onto a bulk break ship as a single item. Otherwise, smaller items are secured using any of the below methods.

Bagged or sacked cargo

Sturdy items that can withstand any external pressures are often placed in sacks or bags. The most common items transported in this way are cement, coffee, sugar, grains and flour.

Usually, the quantities are less than what can fit in a container or cargo bin, making it more appropriate to bulk break ship instead.

Cardboard boxes

Cardboard boxes and cartons are the most cost effective method of transporting smaller goods. Not only can they withstand the harsh environment that comes with sea freight, but they are able to be secured to a pallet, making transportation more streamlined.

Wooden crates and lift vans

Used for their durable wall strength, wooden crates are skeletal-like structures made from timber that safely contain items. 

Wooden crates are suitable for cargo that does not need much packaging. If the item is heavy, planks can be used to reinforce the crate walls. 

Lift vans refer to plywood crates that are best used for transporting household goods such as furniture. These crates are durable and keep items securely contained.


Items such as wheat, hay, tobacco and cotton are often transported in bales. Hesain is used to transport these goods as it is a durable material, and less likely to rupture in transit.

Drums and barrels

Drums and barrels are the preferred method of transporting liquids, such as alcohol and chemicals, or granular, powdered goods. 

These items require clear labeling and directions, especially if the item is hazardous or volatile.

What are bulk break shipping lines?

Bulk break shipping lines refer to bulk break shipping companies who own and operate ships. These companies specialise in transporting oversized equipment that cannot be carried by break ships.

What are the benefits of bulk break shipping?

Bulk break in shipping is beneficial for a range of reasons. 

Primary form of transportation for large, bulky items

The biggest benefit that comes with bulk break shipping is that it can transport cargo that cannot fit into standardised containers or cargo bins. 

Port access

Bulk break shipping allows goods to be transported from small or underdeveloped ports to larger vessels that cannot reach the shallow waters.

Reduces deconsolidation

If you have cargo that would otherwise need to be disassembled for sea freight transportation, bulk break shipping allows you to bypass this time-consuming step and simply transport your cargo as a whole. 

What you should consider when bulk break shipping

While bulk break in shipping is an incredibly useful method of transportation, there are a few things you should consider when sending your goods this way.

It’s not suitable for all foods

While grains and flour may be okay to transport via bulk break shipping, perishable food items that require temperature control should not be bulk break shipped. 

Instead, perishable goods should be containerised, as this allows optimum temperature control.

Choose the right packaging

Because of the nature of bulk break shipping, it’s important to choose the right packaging to ensure your goods are not damaged during transit.

While containers provide protection from the elements, it’s common for bulk break cargo to be more exposed and therefore more at risk to damage.

Choose high quality packaging solutions and follow our guide on how to package sea freight shipments to ensure your cargo arrives at its destination safely and in one piece.

What are bulk break shipping rates?

Bulk break shipping rates vary depending on which bulk break shipping company you use, how far your cargo needs to travel, and what it is.

At Couriers and Freight, we aim to reduce the cost of bulk break shipping by 65%, cutting our customer’s waiting time by 85% in the process.

We’ve achieved this by creating a unique bulk break shipping service that brings together a range of first mile, line haul and last mile providers for a streamlined process grounded in technology. 

Our one-of-a-kind bulk break shipping solution also reduces invoice errors by 98% and wipes 90% of manual data entry out of the equation thanks to our leading freight software.

To find out more about sea freights and how to calculate them, read our insightful article here

The takeaway

Bulk break shipping is a reliable method of transportation for items that are heavy, bulky and otherwise will not fit into a standardised container. 

Cargo is usually packaged in crates, boxes, barrels or palettes, and are secured onto a bulk break ship as an individual iteam rather than being consolidated into a container. 

This method of transportation is most suitable for large machinery and equipment, such as vehicles, steel pipes, boats and cement.

At Couriers and Freight, we streamline the bulk break shipping process through our leading freight software that takes the hassle out of the process, and coordinates a range of shipment providers so you don’t have to.

To find out more about what bulk break in shipping is, or to speak with one of our expert team members about your shipping needs, contact us today.

robert lynch headshot

Robert Lynch

Founder of Australia’s largest outside hire company Couriers & Freight, Robert Lynch is a seasoned business leader in the shipping industry with over 20 years of experience. His expertise spans from outside hire, taxi truck, and last-mile services to freight management, freight forwarding and warehousing. 

Robert has also incorporated technology into his business through custom software to enhance growth and efficiency. Robert is a valuable resource for business owners looking to improve their logistics operations.

Connect with Robert Lynch on LinkedIn.

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