How to Prepare your Vehicle for International Transportation by Ocean


Submitted by Carlos Ruiz Serra on 11/12/2019

Shipping a car as a person is useful when you are looking for a car that is not available for you to buy near home, or maybe you can’t afford to go to the place where the car is because it would take a few days out of work or an expensive plane ticket. But the majority of cars that are shipped worldwide overseas are shipped by big companies with the purpose of selling them in different countries. To do so, they need a ship that has the capacity to transport a big enough number of vehicles (cars, motorcycles, trucks…) so that it generates profit to import them. In fact, they use ships that measure up to 260 meters long and 32 meters wide, with 9 cargo decks. So, as you can imagine, such an enormous ship requires an enormous, wellorganized crew.

This crew is able to full the vessel of more than 3,000 cars they are given within just 15 hours trough a gigantic ramp that unfolds from the stern. One of the secrets to such a big capacity in the ship is its ability to change its inner form by modulating the height of the cargo decks to perfectly fit whatever vehicles it is feed. To do so, a highly efficient organization is required. The person in charge owns a planning in paper, but most importantly the plan is in his head. The operation begins when the car drivers start to drive them off the dry land parking to the gigantic ramp. From there, someone tells them where to go. When they arrive to their destination, the car has to be parked 10 centimetres apart from the nearby car: no centimetre can be lost, no car can be scratched.

In fact, to make a such delicate work, employers are even told to wear soft clothes, as a mischievous zipper could leave its signature forever to the detriment of the quality of the service. The drivers also have to wear gloves and be able to drive right-handed cars with the required precision. Now you may ask: But, once the car is parked in the ship, how do drivers com back to the dry land parking? Well, there is no need to walk the long distance back there, it would suppose a great loss of time. There are taxi drivers that go in and out of the boat carrying car drivers. However, these colossal vessels not only offer cruises to cars, there is also room for bigger machines such as excavators, construction cranes, trucks, bulldozers… As you are probably already expecting, specialized drivers and machines are needed to push them on board. Once the bustle of car loading is over, the ship is ready to leave the port.

The manoeuvre starts by pulling up the ramp. This process takes over 20 minutes at the biggest ships. Leaving the port is a tricky manoeuvre, and that is why other smaller ships are often booked to sail around and help the vessel’s captain to get out of there. The vessel speeds up to 70 nods and can sometimes find storms on its way, so the cars on the decks are secured with chains and ribbons. The travels a ship does and its timing are properly scheduled. It often has to go from port to port, loading and unloading all types of vehicles. This means it almost never stops, so the mechanic’s team has to be made up of experienced engineers that are able to work under pressure.

Moreover, due to the complexity of the legal paperwork required to haul autos through different countries a staff of expert lawyers is also needed. Moving a gigantic ship through the see is not free: the refuelling of 3,000 tones of fuel can take 14 hours and cost around 850,000 $. In addition, the vehicles they are transporting are very valuable. This is why a security team is needed to protect the crew and the cargo. Another way to ship car overseas is into containers. This method provides the opportunity to ship different cars belonging to the same person or spare parts that must also be transported. The new system that is being used to do so is called R-Rak system, and allows the company to load four cars in one container.

But you may ask, why using ships instead of trains or trucks? Well, the truth is trains and trucks are also used, but they don’t have the ability to move that much weight for as low a price, and ships can travel from one continent to another. In fact, more than a half of the goods in the whole world are moved by ships, which equals to 5 trillions of dollars. And, if that much money is moved by ships, why shouldn’t we trust them? And yes, once the cars are in dry land, they have to be moved by trains and trucks to their selling point.

Usually 9 cars are carried by 1 truck (but there are also enclosed trailers that move fewer high-end cars), and it takes about an hour and a half for the truck driver to load them all. A train can move around 40 cars in a row. Again, no space is wasted. So this is the way that, for instance, a German car arrives to the American shop. But, why is this process important? You see, some people would say that progress in communication technologies are the main fuel to the globalization that allows our markets to be full of the most competent products from everywhere. However, what would communication be without a purpose? The purpose is fulfilled when this vessel is able to make a car that was crafted in Japan appear in Spain trough a complex organization of different ships in a port, different people charging the vessel, different vehicle brands competing to send a product as good as they can and a company and a client being able to talk to each other about the deal of buying an imported car or moving their car overseas.