• Kevin Kennedy

Shipping Methods: Land, Sea, or Air?

Choosing which form of shipping best suits your needs can be tricky. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. In this post we break down the five main shipping modes for you, and hopefully make your life a little easier.

The five primary shipping methods to consider are road, rail, air, sea, and intermodal transport.

Road: Shipping by road is the most common method. It's typically used to ship everyday items like dry goods, food, or retail products. Usually large cargo trucks are used for longer distances, and vans are used for the last several miles.

  • Pros: Shipping by road is relatively cheap, especially over short distances. Your product can be delivered right up to your customer's door. Packages can easily be tracked with GPS. You can place your shipment at any time of day or night.

  • Cons: More susceptible to delays due to road conditions, weather, or traffic congestion. Can be slow or expensive if shipping over long distances. Some risk of damage or theft. There are often limitations to the size or weight of cargo. Often not the most environmentally friendly option.

Rail: Shipping by rail is most common when long distances need to be covered over land. All types of cargo are shipped by rail, including large, bulky, or heavy items like vehicles, metals, minerals, livestock, etc.

  • Pros: Because trains can carry so much freight per trip, this option is relatively cheap and environmentally friendly. Trains are far less susceptible to theft, damage, and weather conditions than other modes. The fastest option for shipping long distance over land.

  • Cons: Routes are limited. Cargo can't be delivered to your customers door, so shipping requires additional steps. Less accommodating towards cargoes of abnormal shapes, sizes, or contents. Delays at borders possible due to customs checks and train operator changes.

Air: Sending goods by plane is most common for smaller items that need to get where they're going as soon as possible.

  • Pros: For longer distances, shipping by air is the fastest method possible. It's also very safe due to strict airport regulations that control handling and storage of goods. Your product is very unlikely to be stolen or damaged.

  • Cons: By far the most expensive option. All that speed comes at a price. Capacity is limited in terms of both space and weight. Subject to occasional delays due to flight cancellations or weather. Not an environmentally friendly way to ship. There are limitations to what you can ship as well: hazardous or flammable items are often prohibited.

Sea: There are many use cases for shipping by sea. All kinds of goods are found on freight ships. They're often used for shipping big, heavy items or large quantities.

  • Pros: The cheapest way to ship long distances. These ships have a massive capacity, so costs are split amongst many customers. There are very few restrictions on what can be shipped. Carbon emissions per ton of cargo are low; this is an environmentally friendly way to ship.

  • Cons: One of the slowest forms of shipping. Trips can take weeks or months. Tracking your package with GPS can be difficult or impossible when shipping over sea. Companies usually operate on weekly schedules which can create problems. There is some risk of theft due to pirates.

Intermodal Transport: Shipping using two or more of these methods. An increasingly popular option that uses the best features of multiple modes to suit your needs. For instance, you can ship something a long distance by sea, then switch to rail once your cargo reaches land, then finish off the last few miles of the trip by road. As the business world continues to grow and globalize, intermodal transportation becomes ever more practical.

  • Pros: The most flexible option, and therefore typically the most efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly. Intermodal transportation is scaleable, and can accommodate your business during its peaks and lulls. Scheduling often becomes more predictable and regular using this method.

And that's it! With this information you should have no problem choosing the shipping method that's right for you. Hopefully logistics planning, often intimidating and complicated, seems a little less so after this post.

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