Difference between bulk and break bulk

Bulk and Break bulk are two terms that are being used incorrectly and interchangeably during the course of day to day business..

These terms cannot be used interchangeably because there are distinctive differences between Bulk and Break Bulk in terms of cargo, nature, size, capacity, handling, trade, customers, ports, terminals, equipment, infrastructure…………………………………..

I have designed below infographic to visually demonstrate the differences between the definition of Bulk and Break Bulk, differences in their operations, how the handling differs in both and differences in ships for both of these two cargo types..

Difference between Bulk and Breakbulk



Do you have any other points that you would like to share regarding the difference between Bulk and Break Bulk..?? Please comment if you do have..




Be part of the discussion and share your views about the article here..

54 comments on “Difference between bulk and break bulk

  1. Christopher Pitch says:

    Hi Hariesh – concerning the bulker sizes, I’ve always considered Handies to be up to 35,000 dwt with handymaxes up to abt 50,000 dwt and supramaxes above that. I know that handymaxes were out of favour for a long time due to the bigger is better for fuel efficiency theory howevr they do seem to be making a comeback

    1. Hi Christopher, there is always scope for the different size vsls at different ports.. In my opinion, Handys will never go out of favour as there are still a lot of small ports around the world where these vsls are needed and also many short sea trades..

  2. Nghede Kati says:

    Somebody…..Anybody help,please.What can I do so that I can be able to read the info in this article.It is just blurred.I need this data badly.

    1. Hi Nghede, sorry about that, not sure what happened or why it is blurred.. I have rectified the issue, please check..

  3. Nghede Kati says:

    The article is blurred,I can’t read anything.It looks like just the info I need for my assignment.I have created an account & signed in,but still can’t read anything.

  4. Pratik says:

    lucid explaination

  5. Very clear for me ! many thanks !

  6. LInda Gordon says:

    Thank you, very imformative.

  7. Maeva OBONE says:

    thank you for finally making me understand the difference between these two terms, the way you designed it is clear like water for me…thanks a lot keep it up and GOD bless you

    1. Glad that it helped Maeva.. Pls do share this blog with your peers.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Excellent Graphics and explanations….I’m brushing up on terminologies etc etc…haven’t been in the dry bulk cargo business for quite a few years but hopefully that’s about to change
    Your site has helped tremendously….and so do the blogs/questions from others in general. Overall a very useful site…well done &
    Thank you again
    Peter Burns

    1. Thank you for your kind words Peter.. ๐Ÿ™‚ Please do also share the info with your peers..

  9. Louis Grobler says:

    Very nice summary to give a basic idea to some of my staff to understand the difference. Good job! It is for basics, thus understandably there is a lot of ifs and buts, but it is certainly an excellent starting point to get the basics right.

  10. David ROSE says:

    good day everyone,
    could you please tell me in which right bulk section my following example could be : a vehicle or any item carried on a bedflat ?(yacht shipped on 6x40flat for example).
    is it unitized cargo or neo bulk cargo.
    i think in my company i work, the term is not appropriate (we call it breakbulk cargo)
    and for information, can we call a Flat equipment, a Container.
    if we look a cargo on a flat, it does not really contain the cargo, since this cargo dimension may be outside the equipment
    thank you

    1. Hello David, a container comes in many size/types.. Platform or Collapsible Flat Rack is one such type.. Cargoes that don’t fit in a standard container maybe loaded on a Flat Rack.. That cargo is then identified as an Out of Gauge cargo or Over Dimensional Cargo depending on which side of the Equator you come from.. But it will still be classified as a container shipment.. The freight for such cargoes maybe charged per container + the additional Out of Gauge charges for lost slots..

      However, there are cases where break bulk cargo maybe loaded on a container vsl but on top of several flat rack containers and then lashed on board.. Such cargo may be charged as lumpsum instead of per container..

      Trust this clarifies..

  11. Tienie says:

    I am just so happy to find out this blog. Thank you very much, it is extremely informative!!!

  12. Zuzana Haider says:

    This is really great explanation. Thank you!

    1. You are welcome Zuzana.. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad to be of help..

  13. Capt R.Satishraja says:

    Hai I am a Master mariner and a teacher by passion. When I spill a hand full of jewels from this treasure I feel more realistic and authentic. Your efforts are commendable.

  14. Bud Cohan says:

    Great visuals but the article doesn’t cover the topic fully. There doesn’t appear to be any “universal” agreement re: definitions of the terms — check out the various dictionaries. There’s breakbulk, break bulk, and break-bulk as well as bulk cargo, et ali. Their definitions are similar among the various glossaries/dictionaries but nevertheless contain slight differences. Hinkleman’s global terms dictionary appears to be quite detailed but the only one I could find on the internet was 10 years old.

    1. Hello Bud, can you pls clarify what is not covered in the article..

      The objective of the article was to explain the differences between bulk and break bulk.. As you rightly mentioned, Break Bulk is written as breakbulk, break bulk, and break-bulk across the internet and in text books, but it all means the same and that meaning is what is explained in the infographic..

      As explained in the article, Break bulk ships are also called Multi Purpose or General Cargo ships and in some cases people also refer to Break Bulk cargo as General Cargo because there are too many types of cargoes to list..

      There are no universal agreements on how Break Bulk/Multi Purpose/General Cargo ships are referred to.. IMO doesn’t make any reference to the term Break Bulk itself but refers to General Cargo ships..

  15. Asmita Mestry says:

    Super information given in simpler form

  16. Miguel Fernandes says:

    After so many years working in the shipping and logistics business, for the first time I got a full picture about this….

    1. Thank you Miguel, that is one of the objectives of this blog to refresh and enhance the memory or knowledge of those already in the industry for several years, but may not be dealing with certain segments all the time.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Emil Mathew says:

    Ship Types based on DWT appeared to be confusing. This can be explained clearly with a two dimensional graph instead presenting in a pie chart. Otherwise your explanation on break bulk and bulk is informative…

    1. Hello Emil, a pie chart represents data visually as a fractional part of a whole and readers can see the data comparison at a glance.. As you can see in the pie chart, the Bulker category dominates the world’s ship types @ 43%.. That was the objective..

  18. suresh nair says:

    Hi, Hariesh,
    Class article. Very informative. for all those especially who are more into containerized shipping.. There are many terms when a break bulk or bulk cargoes are shipped.
    We would appreciate some blog on these subjects like hook to hook etc.
    Keep up the good work…all the best.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement Suresh.. More information on the terms used in Break Bulk and Bulk will follow in due course..

  19. Saeed Mirza says:

    Great explanation, thanks.
    Any cargo such as coal, grain, phosphate or as you mentioned “cargo not packed” we used to call “in true bulk” to differentiate from the bulk cargo. Will this term help?

    1. Hello Saeed, yes true bulk is also another term that is used, but still not very popular commercially..

  20. SUNIL MENON says:

    That was a superb way to explain both the terms… thanks!

    1. You are welcome Sunil, glad you found the explanation useful..

  21. Hi Hariesh, what a great post, thanks for your work.
    Have you done some similar infographic or post to define each one of the Bulkers and where their names come from?

    1. Hello Alberto, thank you for your encouragement.. And thanks for the idea of the infographic to describe the bulkers, will look into it..

  22. John Reynolds says:

    Excellent article and well illustrated. Thank you !

    1. Thank you John.. This is my first infographic on this blog and surely there will be more.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. L.R.Stewart says:

    Just for general interest only . Presentation was of a friendly introductory nature . Please also refer to IMOยดs definition of a ” bulk carrier” .

    The so called ” Geared Dry Bulker” can at times carry a full and complete ” homogeneous ” cargo under deck & on deck such as sawn timber or strapped/bundled logs (paper pulp trade) and must observe all the prevailing rules of the trade and good seamanship concerning lashing/securing /stability .

    Although the practice was never fostered and has disappeared – since say the “70 ties ” – grain ( bagged & bulk” parcels ) and coal in bulk have been carried on weather deck of a ship !.

    1. Hello LR, thanks for the information..

  24. Alex says:

    The breakbulk cargo is the one which includes several types of cargo altogether. Breakbulk cargo is is found in many areas of Africa and Asia. The cargo which is made up of only one type packed uniformely is named neo-bulk cargo. You described neo-bulk cargo as being breakbulk cargo. Actually, breakbulk cargo tends to lose importance in modern shipping.

    1. Hello Alex, thanks for bringing it up.. I have edited the infographic to include non unitised general cargo under Break Bulk.. Break bulk cargo is still very much relevant in today’s shipping world and such cargoes will always be shipped..

    2. Alex says:

      You missesd the central point. Container cargo is a category of general cargo. The cargo classification is as follows: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/images/sealift-ships.jpg

    3. Hello Alex, while cargo inside a container maybe described as General Cargo and General Cargo ships can also load containers, I do not agree with the classification as shown in this image that containerized cargo, ships or trade can be classified under general cargo.. And as you can see, this image also incorrectly classifies RO-RO under containerized cargo..

      Image cargo classification

    4. Alex says:

      I agree with you as for Ro-ro cargo, but please take a look on the following figure:


  25. Karen Read says:

    This was a great article. Thank you for making it so clear and for all the great education you provide.

    1. You are most welcome Karen and happy that you find the information useful.. Pls do circulate among your peers..

  26. Rajamanickam says:

    Thanks for your great post!!

    1. jemimah mkaluma. says:

      This was a great article.Thanks for making it clear by defining the differences of the two.

    2. Glad to be of help Jemimah..

    3. its Good I will thing for my Future, Thanks

    4. Yousuf Zahid Hussain says:

      Superb article…. you are doing great work by educating people

    5. Thank you for your kind words Yousuf, pls do circulate the information among your peers..

    6. Glad you liked it Rajamanickam..

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