Break bulk is a system of transporting cargo as separate pieces rather than in containers. This type of cargo is non-containerised and used for individual items that are oversized and overweight, e.g. construction equipment, oil and gas machinery, pipes, boats, turbine blades, ship propellers, generators, large engines and steel parts.
How break bulk shipping works
Break-bulk cargo is usually transported in bags, boxes, crates, drums or barrels, or as unit loads secured to pallets or skids. Specialist break bulk vessels come fitted with heavy-lift cranes that can manage heavy cargo safely and quicker than dockside cranes, which makes the process of loading/unloading faster and more efficient.
The term ‘break bulk’ comes from the phrase ‘breaking bulk’, where part of a ship’s cargo is extracted or unloaded. A break-in-bulk point is a place where goods are transferred from one mode of transport to another, e.g. docks where goods are transferred from ship to truck.