How to Properly Load a Flatbed Trailer

A big part of flatbed trucking is controlling and protecting cargo using things such as chains, bungee straps, and poly or canvas tarps. Every flatbed driver knows how much work is involved in securing and covering a load prior to departure. Having said that, there is a lot more to safe flatbed trucking than just deploying tarps and ratchet straps. It all starts with how a trailer is loaded.

Truck drivers have to be concerned about things that never cross the minds of car drivers. How can cargo be secured so it doesn’t shift during transport? In what order should pieces be loaded onto the back of my trailer? How should the load be balanced? All these questions, and more, have to be considered by the truck driver supervising the loading of his or her trailer. The driver is ultimately responsible at the end of the day.

Tongue Weight and Trailer Sway

Have you ever observed a pickup truck in front of you towing a camping trailer that was swaying back and forth? An unequal distribution of weight likely caused the trailer sway. Flatbed trailers are subject to the same condition if they are not loaded properly.

The most common cause of trailer sway is not having the tongue weight ratio correct. Tongue weight is defined as the amount of weight applied to the point where the trailer is attached to the tow vehicle. In a tractor-trailer scenario, this would refer to the weight directly over the fifth wheel. It can be as high as 25% of the total; it should never be less than 10%.

Weight in Front of the Axle

Hand-in-hand with tongue weight is the amount of weight that is loaded in front of the trailer’s axle. If too much weight is behind the axle, the trailer is likely to sway back and forth. For this reason, the heaviest components of any flatbed load are placed as close to the front of the trailer is possible. As much as 60% of the total weight of the load should be forward of the axle.

Order of Loading

In addition to balancing the load from front to back and side to side, flatbed truckers know there is an order to how cargo is loaded. The heaviest item should be loaded first, and top-heavy item should be given priority. Loading top-heavy items first gives a driver the opportunity to tie down those items securely before additional cargo is loaded.

After top-heavy items are loaded, the rest of the space can be filled in. It is important for loading to occur progressively on both ends of the top-heavy items so as to minimize both squat and dive. These two conditions put extra weight on the back of a tractor because there is not enough weight near the axle of the trailer. They can cause a loss of control during braking, which is something no truck driver wants.

Final Load Preparation

Once all the cargo is loaded onto a trailer, the process of securing it all begins. This is where a driver’s inventory of cargo control supplies comes in, according to Mytee Products. Drivers start by using chains or webbing straps to tightly secure all cargo to the bed of the trailer. Blocks are used to prevent lateral movement where required.

Securing the cargo is followed by covering it with tarps (again, where required). Tarps can be applied manually or with a tarping machine. They can be secured with bungee straps or additional webbing straps. Tarping is followed by a final inspection before the driver is ready to depart.

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