What is Break Bulk Shipping?

What is Break Bulk Shipping? The term break bulk comes from the older phrase “breaking bulk” which is the extraction of a portion of the cargo on a ship, or the beginning of the unloading process from the ship’s holds. In modern context, break bulk is meant to encompass cargo that is transported in bags, boxes, crates, drums, or barrels – or items of extreme length or size. To be considered break bulk, these goods must be loaded individually, not in intermodal containers nor in bulk as with liquids or grains.

Break bulk was the most common form of cargo for most of history. Since the late 1960s, break bulk cargo has declined while containerized cargo has grown significantly. Moving containers on and off a ship is much more efficient than having to move individual goods. This efficiency allows ships to minimize time in ports and spend more time on the sea. Break bulk cargo is also more susceptible to loss, theft and damage.

Loading and unloading break bulk cargo can be very labor-intensive. Generally such cargo is brought to the quay next to the ship, and then each individual item is lifted on board separately – oftentimes using heavy-duty cranes from the boat or by the dockside.  Once on board, each individual item must be secured and stowed separately as well.

Examples of commonly shipped break bulk cargo commodities include:

  • Bagged or sacked cargo
  • Bailed goods
  • Barrels, drums, and casks
  • Corrugated and wooden boxes or containers
  • Reels and rolls
  • Equipment, vehicles and components
  • Steel girders and structural steel
  • Any long, heavy or over-sized goods

The biggest challenge when shipping break bulk cargo is that it requires more resources and coordination – longshoremen, loading and unloading cranes, warehouses, specialized ships, transport vehicles, etc. That’s why working with an experienced and capable break bulk logistics company can make all of the difference in the world. Logistics Plus has 20 years of break bulk and project cargo experience. We’ve shipped every sort of break bulk cargo imaginable: locomotives, airplane components, tugboats, pipes, tanks, transformers windmills, and so much more!  Some people call this type of cargo “the big, the bad, and the ugly” … but that’s exactly the type of logistics project we love to handle!

If you have any upcoming break bulk shipments, just click the banner below to give us a try … or email us at!

Logistics Plus Big Bad Ugly 80x60 Banner Ad