The ultimate guide to flatbed hauling

The ultimate guide to flatbed hauling

This comprehensive guide covers the definition of flatbed hauling, its benefits, shipping tips, the requirements for safe flatbed driving, among other crucial things you need to know about hauling cargo using a flatbed.

Let’s start with knowing and understanding what a flatbed truck is and its various types and uses.

What is a flatbed truck?

Flatbed trucks are large vehicles with flat bodies and no roof or sides.

The vehicle’s unique bed design is ideal for loads too wide for trucks with enclosed bodies.

This design structure simplifies the loading and unloading of cargo because forklifts or any similar equipment can be operated and maneuvered from any side of the vehicle.

Are there different types of flatbed trailers?

If you want to become an owner-operator or start a trucking company with a fleet of trucks, knowing the different types of flatbed trailers and their uses is essential.

Here are flatbed trailer types that could be part of your fleet.

1. Step deck

A step deck (or drop deck) is a flatbed trailer with a top and bottom deck. The step deck is commonly used for cargo that is too wide or tall to fit into a standard flatbed.

Step deck loads usually ride lower in the trailer, allowing it to pass under low bridges even with tall loads. At ground level, you can use loading ramps to get on and off the bed easily.

2. Extendable flatbeds

Extendable flatbeds, also known as flatbed stretch trailers, transport cargo that is too long to fit on a standard flatbed.

An extendable flatbed truck can haul freight without overhang. However, there are instances where larger loads will require a permit and escort vehicles.

3. Stretch single-drop deck

This trailer type is similar to extendable flatbeds but comes with a drop deck.

The vehicle can lengthen its bed like an extendable flatbed and stretch to accommodate cargo too long for standard step decks. Essentially, a stretch single-drop deck can legally carry loads that standard drop deck flatbeds can’t.

You can attach a bulkhead to the trailer’s front to secure large cargo. This can protect the freight from coming loose during hard-braking events.

Attaching a bulkhead should also allow the cargo to bend and go over the truck’s cab instead of into it.

4. Double drop

Double drop flatbeds allow you to load oversize freight, including items more than 10 feet tall.

Besides a front and back deck, double drop flatbeds have a well in the middle, usually 25 to 29 feet long, to accommodate tall freight.

However, the well can shorten your space for loading cargo, and it requires using a crane and other flatbed trucking tools to load and unload.

5. Removable gooseneck trailer (RGN)

RGNs are versatile trailers that you can use for long and tall loads, including hauling large machinery. They’re detachable, and the trailer can be dropped to the ground to turn into a ramp so you can drive heavy equipment right onto the deck.

RGNs are also usually designed with three to 20 axles, allowing them to carry and deliver heavy and massive payloads.

6. Side-kit

Side-kit flatbed trailers include panels, curved metal spines shaped like bows, and stakes around the bed’s perimeter. This provides some form of structure that allows you to attach tarps as necessary.

The side-kit flatbed’s design (with the attached tarps) can protect sensitive cargo from exposure to harsh elements.

7. Lowboys

A lowboy trailer can handle cargo that is too tall for step deck flatbeds. Lowboys resemble step decks, but these vehicle types include a double drop and sit lower than standard drop deck trailers.

Lowboy trailers sit 18 inches off the ground, allowing these vehicles to accommodate freight requiring clearance heights of up to 11 feet and 6 inches.

Legal flatbed dimensions you need to know

The points below cover commercial flatbed trailer types and their corresponding dimensions and weight capacity.

Standard flatbed trailer dimensions

The general rule requires that the total weight of the truck, cargo, and trailer must not exceed 80,000 pounds.

For standard flatbeds, the maximum freight dimensions should be:

  • Length: 48 feet to 53 feet
  • Height: 8.5 feet
  • Width: 8.5 feet

The maximum freight weight must be 48,000 to 52,000 pounds.

Step deck

The step deck legal weight and dimensions are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 48,000 pounds
  • Top deck length: 11 feet
  • Bottom deck length: 37 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Bottom deck height: 10 feet

Extendable flatbeds

The maximum legal weight and dimensions for extendable flatbeds are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 43,000 pounds
  • Minimum length: 48 feet
  • Maximum length: 80 feet
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches

Double drop

The legal weight and dimensions for double drop flatbeds are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 36,000 to 42,000 pounds

Main deck

  • Length: 25 feet to 29 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Height: 11 feet 6 inches

Front deck

  • Length: 10 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches

Rear deck

  • Length: 9 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Height: 10 feet


The legal flatbed dimensions and weight limits for side-kits are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 45,000 pounds
  • Length: 48 or 53 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 4 inches
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches

What are oversized flatbed dimensions?

Flatbed dimensions exceeding 8.5 feet wide are considered oversized.

Shipments that exceed 12 feet in width might require one or two pilot vehicles of the flatbed vehicle.

Also, weight restrictions are applied on a per axle basis. This means shipments may not exceed the total weight limit but might exceed the per axle value.

In such cases, adjusting the load can make your shipment legal, eliminating the need for special requirements and permits.

How to ensure flatbed loads are safe

Safety protocols, standard processes, and trucking essentials are critical to keeping flatbed loads safe.

Follow the tips below to ensure a secure flatbed load and safe flatbed driving.

1. Use the right tie-down equipment and plan the cargo placement

After loading and distributing the cargo load safely and evenly, determine the number of tie-downs required and where each should go.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cargo securement rules, you need at least one tie-down for every ten feet of cargo (and any fraction beyond that).

For instance, a 35-foot long flatbed freight would require four tie-downs.

You must also factor in the total working load limit of the securement devices, chains, and tie-down straps, which should be 50% of the total cargo weight.

You can check the limits on the manufacturer manuals or its visible tags.

Learn from these quick tips when selecting securement devices:

  • Ensure the chains, chain binders, and ratchet straps can keep your freight fastened tightly in place when the rig is moving
  • Opt for cargo straps made of softer materials, such as plastic piping and lumber, to avoid potential damage
  • Invest in corner and edge protectors to extend the lifespan of your tie-down straps
  • Conduct fleet safety training and coaching for your drivers and staff to make sure everyone knows the proper equipment and ways to set them up

Also, it’s always good practice for drivers to do quick inspections every 50 miles to ensure the cargo has not shifted and the tie downs are still holding.

2. Double-check your specs and distribute the cargo evenly 

Avoid exceeding your flatbed trailer’s standard maximum freight weight and distribute the cargo evenly. This helps prevent the flatbed trailer from tipping over or swerving out of control.

Follow these general best practices:

  • Calculate the freight weight to distribute it properly and to secure the cargo
  • Start stacking the load in the middle and move outward
  • Place heavier items above the axles and lower to the deck to keep a low center of gravity
  • Position 60% of the load in the flatbed trailer’s front half to keep the back-end less heavy and unwieldy during transit

3. Take proper precautions

Flatbed trucking drivers must exercise extreme caution when loading, securing, unloading, and transporting cargo.

This includes when drivers work on or around the trailers to avoid potential accidents and life-threatening injuries.

Follow these safety tips:

  • Provide appropriate gear, such as ankle supports and non-slip footwear
  • Make sure everyone is mindful about obstructed walkways and narrow ledges that could cause anyone to fall or lose their footing
  • Ensure your personnel follows standard procedure when loading, securing, moving, and unloading flatbed cargo
  • No one should jump from the trailer, and anyone going down must use the steps and climb down carefully
  • Use a fleet safety solution that allows you to track dangerous flatbed trucking driving behavior

Benefits of flatbed shipping for freight companies

Flatbed shipping can be one of the most effective and secure ways to transport and handle cargo. Below are four benefits of using flatbed shipping.

1. Flexibility

A flatbed truck’s design allows cranes and forklifts to load goods from all angles. This makes loading, transporting, and unloading heavy and massive cargo easier.

This is especially useful for hauling heavy machinery and equipment for the construction industry.

2. Allows you to optimize trips

Flatbed trucks can transport high volumes of several materials in one go, saving you time and money on shipping and fuel costs.

Flatbed hauling also lets you transport oddly shaped cargo easily, which means you won’t need to break down the item into parts (when possible) to move it.

3. No loading dock restrictions

There are currently no loading dock restrictions for flatbed hauling, which help expand your service coverage.

Flatbed trucks can deliver goods to any location, including residential neighborhoods, large construction sites, and others.

4. Secure cargo

Flatbed trucks have specific standards to secure cargo since the freight is exposed.

This means you need to take more precautions and use proper, heavy-duty equipment, such as chains, tarps, and coil racks to keep the cargo from shifting during transport.

Essentially, flatbed shipping helps keep cargo more secure and safer, ensuring everything arrives at the destination unscathed.

Flatbed shipping tips

Follow the tips below for proper and efficient flatbed shipping.

  • Understand the freight details. Know the type of cargo you are hauling to determine the right materials to secure the flatbed freight during shipment. Other details you should know include the cargo’s value, dimensions and weight, the loading and unloading process and required equipment, and pick-up and delivery locations.
  • Know the best flatbed trailer type to use. Some cargo requires specific flatbed types for proper, safe, and legal transport. Determine the right flatbed truck for particular loads to ensure the vehicle meets the shipment’s requirements.
  • Leverage freight technology. On top of using truck tracking tools to provide superior customer support, use freight technology to make it easier for your clients to avail of your flatbed shipping services. The latter allows you to provide an online portal that lets customers easily learn and book your flatbed shipping services.

How KeepTruckin assists flatbed trucking

KeepTruckin offers the technology and tools to simplify and streamline the managing of your flatbed trucking operations.

KeepTruckin’s all-in-one solution includes key functionalities, such as:

  • Driver safety features, including an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Dashcam that can detect unsafe driving and stop crashes before they occur
  • A real-time Global Positioning System or GPS tracking feature to gain overall visibility and to monitor your flatbed trucks at all times
  • Electronic logging device or ELD compliance technology to simplify and speed up compliance management for your drivers and back-office workers

Ready to get access to powerful insights for efficient and safe flatbed hauling processes while reducing your operating costs? Try a demo of KeepTruckin today.

All content and information on this website is for informational and educational purposes only, and does not constitute financial, business, or legal advice. Although KeepTruckin strives to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in the area for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any professional, legal, business and financial, or tax-related decisions. Some of the links contained within this site will let you leave the KeepTruckin website. The linked sites are not under the control of KeepTruckin, nor is KeepTruckin responsible for the contents of any linked site or any link contained in a linked site. These links are provided to you only as a convenience, and the inclusion of any link does not imply endorsement of the site or affiliation.



Jimmy Rodela writes about transportation industry challenges, insights, and compliance news. He specializes in digital media and blogging.

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