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open deck shipping

A Guide to Open-Deck Shipping: Flatbeds, Step Decks, Goosenecks, and More

Nathan McGuire
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August 7, 2023
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A Guide to Open-Deck Shipping: Flatbeds, Step Decks, Goosenecks, and More
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If the load you are shipping cannot fit in a reefer or dry van, then you probably depend on flatbed equipment to get it there. Industrial machinery, steel coils, construction material, concrete, pipes, farming equipment, and over-dimensional loads require sourcing flatbed shipping services. As noted in a previous article, flatbed capacity remains tight throughout the United States. Construction projects provide a boom for flatbed carriers who can use more leverage to secure higher-paying loads from their customers. Seasonality creates opportunities for flatbed carriers to be more selective of what type of load they want to haul and earn the highest cost per mile available. This article looks closer at open-deck shipping, offering readers a guide to understanding the different trailer equipment types available when booking your next load with a flatbed shipping service.

What is Open-Deck Shipping?

Open-deck shipping refers to utilizing a truck trailer that lacks walls, a roof, or insulation and is completely open and exposed to the elements. By design, the trailers enable shippers to load products from the sides, accommodating cargo that cannot fit within the dimensions of an enclosed trailer. Open-deck shipping often requires special equipment to load or unload products. For example, some loads might need a small crane to hoist the product onto the truck bed. Other loads, such as palletized roofing material, can be quickly loaded and unloaded at a door dock using a forklift. Regardless of the commodity being moved, you’ll want to partner with a transportation provider specializing in flatbed shipping services.

The Different Types of Open-Deck Trailer Equipment

Open-deck shipping is a term that refers specifically to the subclassification of flatbed trailer equipment that is available. In principle, there are five different kinds of trailers that a company can use when shipping a load on a flatbed. This section offers a quick breakdown of the characteristics of each type. 

Flatbed Trailers

The most common open-deck equipment is the traditional flatbed trailer, typically 48’ or 53’ in length. A typical flatbed trailer can haul a legal maximum weight of 48,000 pounds. Flatbed trailers can be loaded or unloaded from any side of the trailer depending on the commodity, load specifications, and shipping requirements.

Step Deck Trailers

A step deck refers to a specific flatbed trailer type shaped with two platforms: the one in the front is positioned at the height of a regular flatbed, while the larger bed drops considerably lower toward the ground. This design allows shippers to haul dimensionally tall freight.  For example, if a company wanted to move a giant excavator to a customer, they’d use a step deck trailer to load the machinery for safe transport along any shipping lane that has bridges or viaducts along the way.

Gooseneck Trailers

Gooseneck trailers, known for their characteristic shape resembling a goose's neck and head, allow customers to load freight with a ramp. Goosenecks allow companies to haul things like combine harvesters, automobiles, tractors, or any other wheeled vehicle that could utilize the hitch on the back of the trailer. Similar to step decks, gooseneck trailer beds are positioned closer to the ground to help accommodate freight with larger heights. The standard weight limit on a gooseneck is about 35,000 pounds, and has a standard 8’6” width. 

Double Drop Trailers

As the name implies, double drop trailers feature two drops between the axles. Double drop trailers, also known as lowbed trailers, have a raised front end and a rear deck, which helps when transporting goods that are dimensionally tall with a low center of gravity. Unlike gooseneck trailers, however, double drop trailers lack the removable rear hitch, which means that loads must be loaded or unloaded using a crane or forklift. 

The Different Factors that Influence Open-Deck Shipping Rates

Flatbed loads are more labor-intensive than conventional reefer or dry van loads, and there are several factors that flatbed shipping companies must consider before providing a rate for your next shipment. Let’s now look at the different considerations that affect flatbed shipping costs.

Load Dimensions, Weight, and Commodity Being Shipped

These are standard questions that carrier partners will want to know when providing a rate quote for an open-deck trailer load. What is the commodity being shipped? What are its weight and dimensions? If it’s an oversized shipment, does the carrier require special permits to cross state lines? The answers to these questions will determine the type of open-deck trailer to use for transportation.

The Shipping Lane and Total Miles

Flatbed shipping companies have different specialties. Some companies want to keep their drivers local, while other carriers are only interested in long hauls. Shipping lanes are a significant factor in determining whether your company will find capacity. Certain lanes are less desirable than others. A load going from Honolulu to Denver would probably be hard to cover. But shipping rates also depend on the lanes your company needs and the deadhead miles required to pick up the load. Carriers will also consider whether the city your shipment is delivering to has freight, too, since they will likely be looking for a backhaul.

Equipment Surcharges

Does the load require any special equipment, such as straps or tarps, to secure the shipment? Does the driver need special equipment to enter the shipping or delivery facilities, like a vest, hard hat, or safety goggles? Sometimes, flatbed providers already have this equipment available and won’t charge anything extra. However, if the driver needs additional equipment, your company will need to factor in these other expenses.

Fuel Surcharges

Shippers know that fuel prices factor into the cost of pricing a shipping rate. Each day, the U.S. government releases its Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update, the standard that carriers use to determine their fuel surcharge cost (FSC) for a load. Some carriers will provide an “all-in” rate that includes FSC, but for companies with regular freight volume, rate quotes sometimes list FSC separately — especially if the rate is for a mini-bid, RFP, or other project.

What to Look for in a Flatbed Shipping Provider

Open-deck shipping can be simplified when you partner with a transportation provider specializing in flatbed trailer shipping. Transportation service providers experienced in shipping flatbed loads should have a national network of carefully-vetted domestic carriers that offer a variety of trailer equipment available to service open-deck loads. Wicker Park Logistics, for example, offers on-demand flatbed capacity for any loads shipped throughout the United States, Canada, or Mexico. This service helps shippers connect with their North American suppliers and offers customers capacity when they most need it. Flatbed loads account for nearly 30% of all loads Wicker Park manages, demonstrating its commitment to helping companies with open-deck shipping.

Wicker Park Logistics Helps North American Shippers Get the Best Service and Equipment for their Open-Deck Loads

Wicker Park Logistics offers tailored managed transportation for global shippers looking for streamlined solutions to cover their North American supply chains. Its technology allows customers to obtain up-to-the-minute tracking and tracing updates, and load notifications, ensuring that every shipment in their supply chain has the real-time visibility they deserve. Wicker Park Logistics makes flatbed shipping service easy. A dedicated team of logistics professionals ensures that every open-deck load has the best truck and equipment available. Don’t wait for a service failure to find a better option. Just choose Wicker Park Logistics, and connect with one of their experts today!

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