Step Deck Trailer Transport - The Ultimate Guide
Tips, Tricks, and Things You Should Know.
A step deck trailer is used when transporting cargo that exceeds the legal height limit. This type of commercial trailer allows drivers and operators to avoid obtaining permits for their vehicles. Step deck trailers work well for transporting agricultural machinery, construction equipment, building materials, large vehicles, and other loads that wouldn't be suitable for a traditional flatbed trailer.
Step deck trailers look very similar to flatbeds, but they have two levels. The front level is designed to clear the rear of the tractor at its connection point, while the rear level is lower and allows you to haul taller freight than a traditional flatbed. Step decks can haul the same commodities as the flatbeds but with fewer vertical height restrictions since the main deck is lower to the ground. Their lower main deck allows for freight up to 11 feet tall, which is why we often see larger machinery and construction equipment transported on these types of trailers. Many step deck trailers also have ramp capabilities, making it easier to load and unload equipment. Their lower height allows forklifts to easily access cargo since they’re closer to the ground.
Many individuals find that it is better to hire a professional to move their step deck freight. This is especially true when moving loads over long distances, tricky routes, and through populated areas. It can be difficult and time-consuming to find the right transport provider to handle your load. Luckily, VeriTread is here for you! Our service connects shippers with qualified transport companies around the country who have extensive experience in transporting step deck freight. Still, it’s always best to know everything about the process, should any surprises arise. We have prepared a fundamental guide for step deck transport. Let’s dive into what it takes to safely and legally transport a step deck load from one place to another.
Perform a Documented Risk Assessment
To ensure that you can handle the risk of a situation, it is important to conduct an assessment. You will document what steps are taken in response and how they could fail so things never get out of control or cause unnecessary harm. Having a clear mental picture of the end results can give you a sound strategy for a successful haul.
Outfit Sites & People With PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
The safety of your crew is the backbone of transport. Without proper protection, they can be at risk not only while preparing for and completing tasks but also during transport if you're carrying heavy cargo. Focusing on PPE documentation will strengthen the overall assessment skill set because it highlights how we take care of ourselves when working with risky loads and situations.
Determine the Weight and Height of Your Equipment
Every load begins with knowing the dimensions and weight of your load and it’s characteristics. The height, width, length, weight, and wind resistance of your cargo are vital considerations when transporting it. Take a few minutes to think about the physics of accelerating, stopping and turning with it on your step deck. The DOT regulations for transportation revolve around these factors. Verify them before you begin to avoid unnecessary fines, delays, or accidents.
Inspect Your Truck and Trailer
Make sure your truck has adequate power to tow the load and your trailer is rated to handle the cargo weight. Inspect your truck and trailer is in good working order, pay specific attention to the tires, lights, brakes, anchor & tie-down points, and hydraulic hoses. If you have questions about the capacities of these tie-down points, like when using a rental step deck trailer for example, be sure to get them answered in advance.
Make sure everyone involved in loading the machine has been trained properly. You may know exactly how you intend to secure a load, but if someone helping you doesn’t share your vision, that can be a problem, especially if they’re out of sight on the other side of the trailer. Not only do they need to know what they're doing, but also how their actions might cause damage or injury if carried out improperly! Explain your plan to them and check their work before you start driving.
Make sure the trailer you are loading onto is on flat, level ground
A tilted trailer can cause rollover problems that are easily avoidable.
Be aware of all obstacles in your area
Adjust your loading strategy to avoid hitting any nearby objects and move everything to a safe distance if possible.
Check that your truck can handle the load and is parked and secure
Use the parking brakes or wheel chocks if necessary to prevent unwanted movement.
Check your trailer deck
Make sure it is as clean as possible and ready to accept the load.
Distribute the Weight Properly
Your load should be placed directly over the axles with a little more of the weight towards the front of the trailer. A good rule of thumb is 60% toward the front and 40% toward the back. If you load too heavy in the rear, the trailer will fishtail. If you load too heavy in the front of the trailer, there will be less weight on the front axle of the towing vehicle which can reduce traction and steering ability. When loading a vehicle, tractor, or heavy equipment, be sure to load evenly leaving equal space on each side of the trailer. When loading materials with a forklift, be sure to load over the axles and toward the center for partial loads and avoid have weight on only one side of the trailer.
Binders Chains, Straps, Nets, & More
Chains are very strong, but they they may cause damage to certain types of loads. Straps and ropes aren’t as strong as chains, but are easier on cargo. Wedges, blocks, and chocks can be an important part of your load-securing strategy if you are hauling things that can roll—pipes, vehicles, etc.—and nets can be used to help secure loose materials. It’s critical that you know the restraint ratings of all binders to safely secure your freight.
in terms of how much weight they can handle.
Follow these steps when using chains
1) Using the right chains. A chain has a working load limit of 1/3 of the chain breaking strength. Understanding the weight capacity of each chain can get complicated because it depends on the diameter and the grade of the chain. Do your research if you are unsure.
2) Inspect chains for wear, drag marks, or broken links.
3) Connect at least one (1) chain from four (4) points of the equipment, usually to the axle which is considered to be more secure than the designated tie-down point provided by the manufacturer. Be sure to cross the chains. If you are loading equipment that has a bucket or backhoe, it’s best to run another chain over that object to prevent swinging or movement that could be a safety hazard. The chains should be attached to a D-ring or fed through the inside of the stake pocket and brought up on the outside for the stake pocket hooked to the top of the stake pocket. This should prevent the chain from coming detached if the chain loosens. Never run the chain on the outside of the rub rail. Position the chains so that the front chains pull forward and the rear chains pull backward and use a chain ratchet to secure the load.
Follow these steps when using straps
1) When using straps, you must first make sure you are using the right straps with the proper weight limits. This is referred to as the working load limit which means the amount of weight each strap will support. The Working Load Limit is 1/3 of the breaking strength of the straps. For example, if the strap breaking strength is 10,000 lbs, the Working Load Limit is about 3,333 lbs.
2) Inspect straps to be sure there are no frays or cuts that could weaken the straps.
3) When securing supplies, straps should be placed every 10 feet. If the load is less than 10 feet long, two (2) straps are required.
If you are transporting machinery make sure all equipment attachments, work tools, and other accessory equipment must be lowered and secured before transportation. Retract booms and buckets and secure them in place. Secure equipment components (lock all doors, covers, tailgates, and articulation points). Also, make sure the machine transmission is immobilized and brakes are locked. For additional protection to your equipment, you may choose to cover it with a tarp or wrap it with shrink wrap. This protects the equipment from dirt, debris, and moisture on the roadways. For equipment with a smokestack, be sure to cover it so debris cannot enter. Use ample & appropriate securing devices (chains, binders, straps, & anchors). Choose appropriate attachment points on the machine and trailer. Once the load is secured, check everything a second time. It can be helpful to have a safety check system in place where multiple people check the load, instead of relying on a single person.
Check out a good securement video from Dirt Perfect. It covers tips. tricks, do's & don'ts for equipment greater than 10,001 lbs.
Put cushioning material between items if needed
Items that aren’t properly secured can damage one another if they shift in transit. Use appropriate cushion material to prevent in transit damage to your freight.
Cover the load if appropriate
If you have a large load that can be blown off the trailer or items with components which could easily get damaged by strong winds while traveling down highway, make sure to cover it fully and securely with tarps or other coverings.
Verify Driver Visibility
Make sure the driver has a clear view of what’s going on around them. The placement of equipment should also allow free movement of the driver and should not obstruct them from exiting the vehicle or accessing any necessary vehicle components or accessories. This ensures the driver can safely transport the machinery and keeps your company compliant with DOT regulations.
Planning the Best Route
Heavy loads can be very dangerous in rush hour traffic in big cities. Take time before your trip and map out a route (and time) that avoids areas of construction or heavy congestion on the roadways, you'll thank yourself later! Try to avoid toll roads, low-hanging bridges, or any other interruptions or delays that could slow transportation. The best routes have the least amount of bridges, turns, starts, stops, and difficult terrain.
You also need to be sure that the roads along your route can handle the weight, height, and width of the load. It is very dangerous to assume that all roads can handle the weight of a heavy load. If the area is unfamiliar, then we strongly suggest you drive the route in a smaller vehicle first to identify areas of concern.
Laws, Regulations, & Permits
Complying with all permits and regulations is especially important if your load qualifies as oversized or overwidth. Most larger heavy equipment fits this designation which can carry extra liability. Check the laws and regulations for every state where the load will be transported. These laws change as you cross state borders, so don’t assume that the regulations at your destination are the same as those at the departure point. Additionally, Federal regulations apply for interstate commercial loads that weigh more than 10,000 pounds. In some situations, it may make more financial sense to disassemble the machine into smaller sections so that it can travel on multiple trailers as a legal load to avoid oversize and overwidth requirements. In some situations, it is necessary to acquire permits before oversized loads can travel on state roads or highways. Also, check to see if a pilot car is required for your load.
Run Safety Inspections While En Route
Heavy load securement requires check-ins and inspections while on the road, especially when traveling long distances. Walk around the trailer every time you stop for gas, food or a rest break and look for any indicators that the load is shifting, restraints are being damaged, etc. Have extra restraints with you so you can replace or reinforce those you’re already using if necessary.Industry safety standards recommend the following as inspection benchmarks while heavy cargo is en route:
- Once during the first 50 miles of transport.
- Once every 150 miles or once every 3 hours — whichever comes first for long-distance hauls.
- At every change of duty or change of driver station. Have the new driver run a full inspection, then document that inspection in a transport log.
Prepare the Delivery Site
Before unloading, take the time to review and clear the designated unloading area in the receiving yard. Just as you pay attention to this during the loading phase, wet and muddy ramps, cluttered docks, and uneven unloading ground make this part of the operation much harder than necessary. Line the ramps up with the rear of the trailer bed as methodically as possible, taking time to match joints and eliminate any gaps between the trailer and the ramp or dock. Once the machinery begins backing up, there will be no time to reposition.
With everything in place, conduct a final condition survey. Look over the equipment’s tires and hitches to ensure their health. Review roles with personnel, appointing a spotter and an equipment operator just like during the loading process and before you begin breaking down the chain tie points. You’ll also want to do a brief survey on the condition of the tie-downs themselves before their release. It is highly unsafe to undo straps and chains if the load has shifted, even minutely. If this is the case after performing a walk-through, you and the operators will have to draw up a custom unloading plan.
Free the Load
Release the chains, binders, and straps one at a time, beginning with the rear corners. Unravel excess chain that may have been wrapped around the links, then start loosening tie-downs with their ratchet-style wrench boomers. Be very careful, as chains and binders have been wound and should still be tight and pressurized. You don’t want a metal chain unexpectedly snapping up because joints and tension weren’t adequately reduced with the ratchet boomer. This could result in serious injury or death.
Finish It Up
Once delivery is finished, perform a final inspection. Go over all equipment, truck, trailer, anchor points, and tools before sending everyone on their way. Make proper documentation and load up all tools and supplies. Stay safe and legal and send everyone home healthy and in one piece.