The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Flat Racks: Everything You Need to Know

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Shipping goods around the world involves using a variety of containers designed for different types of cargo. One type of container that is particularly useful for oversized or oddly shaped items is the flat rack. These containers are equipped with securing mechanisms such as lashing rings or twist locks to fasten the cargo securely during transit, preventing any shifting or damage. They are widely utilized in industries such as machinery, construction, and automotive for transporting items like heavy machinery, industrial equipment, vehicles, and large-scale infrastructure components.

In this blog, we will explore what flat racks are, their key features, how they are used, and why they are an important part of the shipping industry.

What Are Flat Racks?

Flat racks are a type of shipping container that have a flat, open-top structure with collapsible ends. Unlike standard containers, flat racks do not have side walls or a roof. This design makes them ideal for transporting large, heavy, or bulky items that cannot fit into regular containers.

Common Sizes and Types

Flat racks come in standard sizes, similar to other types of containers:

20-foot flat racks

These measure about 20 feet in length and can handle heavy loads, often up to 30,000 kilograms (66,139 pounds).

40-foot flat racks

These are 40 feet long and can carry even larger items, with a weight capacity often reaching 45,000 kilograms (99,208 pounds).

Flat racks can also be categorized into two main types:

Collapsible flat racks

These have end walls that can be folded down to save space when the rack is not in use.

Non-collapsible flat racks: These have fixed end walls and are typically used for heavier loads that require extra stability.

Key Features of Flat Racks

Flat racks offer several unique features that make them suitable for specific shipping needs. Some of the key features are:

Open Structure

With no side walls or roof, flat racks can accommodate cargo that is too wide or tall for standard containers. This includes machinery, vehicles, and large construction materials.

Heavy Load Capacity

Flat racks are built to handle very heavy loads, making them ideal for transporting industrial equipment and other heavy items.

Flexible Ends

The collapsible ends on some flat racks provide versatility. When the ends are folded down, multiple flat racks can be stacked together, saving space during storage and return transport.

Importance of Flat Racks in Shipping

Flat racks play a crucial role in the shipping industry for several reasons:


Flat racks can carry a wide range of cargo types, including oversized and oddly shaped items that cannot fit into standard containers. This versatility is essential for industries like construction, manufacturing, and logistics.


Using flat racks allows for more efficient loading and unloading of large items. Without the constraints of side walls and a roof, cranes, and forklifts can easily access the cargo from the sides and top.


Flat racks provide a secure platform for heavy and bulky items. The robust construction ensures that even the heaviest loads can be transported safely without the risk of damage.

Applications of Flat Racks

Flat racks are used in many different industries and for various types of cargo. Here are some common applications:

Machinery and Equipment

Large industrial machines, generators, and other equipment are often shipped on flat racks. Their heavy weight and size make flat racks the best option for safe transport.


Trucks, buses, boats, and even helicopters can be transported on flat racks. The open structure allows these vehicles to be securely fastened and easily loaded and unloaded.

Construction Materials 

Oversized building materials like steel beams, pipes, and prefabricated sections are typically shipped on flat racks. Their large size and weight make them unsuitable for standard containers.

Agricultural Equipment

Tractors, plows, and other farming machinery are often transported using flat racks. The ability to handle heavy, bulky items makes flat racks ideal for this purpose.

How to Use Flat Racks

Using flat racks effectively involves several steps. Here’s how to use flat racks:

  • Planning: Determine the size and weight of your cargo to choose the appropriate flat rack. Ensure the load does not exceed the weight limit of the flat rack.
  • Loading: Use cranes, forklifts, or other equipment to carefully place the cargo onto the flat rack. Ensure the load is evenly distributed to prevent tipping or shifting during transit.
  • Securing: Secure the cargo using straps, chains, or other restraints. Properly securing the load is crucial to prevent movement and damage during shipping.
  • Transporting: Once the cargo is loaded and secured, the flat rack can be transported using ships, trains, or trucks. The flat rack can be easily transferred between different modes of transport thanks to its standard size and design.

Advantages of Using Flat Racks

Flat racks offer several advantages for shipping large and heavy items, which are:

  • Cost-Effective: By accommodating oversized items that would otherwise require special handling or multiple shipments, flat racks can reduce shipping costs.
  • Space-Saving: Collapsible flat racks can be folded and stacked when not in use, saving storage space and reducing return transport costs.
  • Durability: Built from strong materials like steel, flat racks can withstand heavy loads and harsh shipping conditions, ensuring the safe delivery of cargo.
  • Accessibility: The open design allows for easy loading and unloading from the sides and top, improving efficiency and reducing handling time.


Flat racks are an essential tool in the shipping industry, offering a versatile and efficient solution for transporting large, heavy, and oddly shaped items. Their unique design, heavy load capacity, and flexibility make them ideal for a wide range of applications, from industrial machinery to construction materials and vehicles. By understanding the importance and proper use of flat racks, businesses can ensure their cargo is transported safely and efficiently, helping to keep global trade moving smoothly.

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