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Trucking is a key component of the American economy. It is estimated that roughly 70% of all freight in the United States is moved by trucks. It should come as no surprise then that there are all different types of trucks out there, most of which require a CDL. One of the unique types of trucking is flatbed trucking.
Flatbed trucking involves the moving of oversized or wide-load freight with the use of a long flatbed. Due to their unique nature, flatbed trucking can be more challenging than traditional trucking and comes with significant risks. However, for those reasons, flatbed trucking is quite lucrative and comes with many other advantages.
As the name implies, flatbed trucking is trucking that involves a flatbed. A flatbed is an open bed designed to handle cargo that doesn’t fit in traditional trucks or trailers. Flatbeds are between 48 and 52 feet long and 8.5 feet wide, with no walls or roof, built with metal frames and flat decks or drop decks.
Flatbed trucks can be found in all parts of the country, but they generally work in areas or along routes that require their special capabilities. Places like this include factory, refineries, mines, construction sites, and military bases.
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The openness of its bed allows for flatbed trucks to ship a large variety of materials. Generally, what these materials have in common is that they cannot be shipped by other trucking means. Some common cargo shipped by flatbed trucks include:
There are several different types of flatbeds that can be used depending on the cargo. They include:
Standard flatbed trailer
Drop deck or step deck trailers
Stretch double drop trailers
Removable Gooseneck trailers (RGN)
Each trailer has a slightly different design to serve a specific purpose. For example, drop deck trailers allow flatbed truck drivers to deliver material that would otherwise not make most clearances with a traditional flatbed trailer.
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Flatbed trucking is made of four key components: loading, securing, tarping, and maneuvering. Each of these components builds off one another to successfully ship flatbed cargo.
Loading for a flatbed is quite different from loading for traditional trucks. Sometimes the cargo is loaded with machinery such as a forklift, but other times the cargo has to be loaded by hand. Depending on the situation, the truck driver may or may not be directly responsible for loading; however, they are still responsible for making sure the cargo is loaded properly.
Once the cargo is loaded, then the flatbed truck driver must make sure the cargo is secured correctly. This is extremely important. Improperly secured cargo can be damaged or become dangerous during transportation. This is why there are regulations from the Department of Transportation on how to secure a load, which is usually down with winches or steel chains.
Tarping allows for flatbed trucking items to be protected by the elements. Not all items have to be tarped, but ones that do require precision and strength. Tarps for flatbeds are very heavy and need to be secured properly so that they don’t pose a threat during transportation.
Speaking of transportation, due to the awkward nature of the cargo, flatbed trucking requires advanced maneuvering skills. Road and weather conditions have to be taken into account with flatbed trucks. Small or sharp turns can put materials at risk of moving around too much, so flatbed truck drivers have to be extra careful.
Flatbed trucking obviously has both its advantages and disadvantages as a career choice. Generally, though, most in the profession find that the pros outweigh the cons.
One of the biggest advantages for a flatbed trucker is the pay. Due to the unique and challenging nature of the job, flatbed truckers are paid between $10,000 and $15,000 more than the average trucker. Of course, the wages come with a greater responsibility which must always be taken into account.
Another advantage for a flatbed trucker is the hours. Flatbed trucks are usually required for more defined roles and routes. The travel time can therefore be more consistent and shorter. Maintenance can also be easier for the flatbed, adding another plus to the job.
Finally, flatbed truckers are a profession in high demand. Much of what is transported by flatbed trucks is very important and in need at all times. Also, flatbeds are used for many different types of cargo, which provides a variety of options for the driver.
Still, though, anyone considering a career as a flatbed truck driver must consider its challenges. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being a flatbed truck driver.
Cargo must be loaded, secured, and transported safely. A lot of materials loaded onto flatbeds are dangerous, and flatbed truck drivers must be aware of this at all times. If the cargo gets loose, the driver or others may be fatally harmed.
That is why there are strict regulations that all flatbed truck drivers must adhere to. This can be challenging, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure safe transportation. Such regulations include proper loading and securing protocols, as well as weight limits and ensuring appropriate trailer sizes.
When it is all said and done, the flatbed driver then has to make sure they can drive safely with constant awareness and skill on their way to their destination.
That being said, flatbed trucking is a rewarding experience for anyone who is up to the task.
How Does Flatbed Trucking Work?
Flatbed trucking involves the process of a flatbed being loaded with cargo that otherwise would not fit in normal trucking trailers.
A flatbed is designed to hold the cargo; however, the cargo must be secured properly so that it does not move during transportation. Most materials shipped by flatbed trucks require skillful maneuvering during transportation.
How Do You Become a Flatbed Trucker?
A flatbed trucker needs a Class A CDL, which is a commercial driver's license for tractor-trailers, and any vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds. Flatbed truckers are also likely to be asked to have a high school degree or GED equivalent.
Is Flatbed Trucking Worth It?
Yes, flatbed trucking can be totally worth it, provided that you are willing to accept the challenges and responsibilities of the profession. The pay can be very lucrative, and the scheduling can be a bit easier than other trucking opportunities.