How to Load a Flatbed Trailer

This guide will outline the proper way to load a flatbed trailer and how to secure the load.

1. Check Weight Limits

Make sue the weight of the load is not going to exceed the weight limit or capacity for the trailer.

    2. Trailer Inspection

    Inspect the trailer to ensure that it will be safe for the road and for the load.

    3. Connect the trailer to the towing vehicle

    If you are loading a trailer that is not connected to a vehicle, the trailer must have rear support jacks, but this is not recommended as it is a safety risk.  For more information, see our guide: How to Hook Up a Trailer

    4. Loading Area

    Move the trailer to a completely flat area.  Never load a trailer on a hill or uneven ground.

    5. Loading – Ramps, Tilt Bed, or Side Load

    1. If you are loading a vehicle or equipment with ramps, put the ramps in place and pull the vehicle up to the start of the ramps.  Adjust the spacing of the ramps to match the alignment of the tires.
    2. If you are loading onto a tilt trailer, there are no ramps so you will just need to tilt the bed down.
    3. For side loading with a forklift, a spotter should be directing the forklift driver for proper load placement and to avoid hitting the rub rails on the trailer and causing damage.

    6. Weight Distribution

    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 back, 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.

    7. Decide whether to use straps or chains

    Chains should be used when securing heavy equipment and sometimes trucks.  Straps would normally be used for securing light weight trucks, cars, and supplies.

    8. When using chains, follow these steps:

    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 manufacture.  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 top of the stake pocket.  This should prevent the chain from coming detached in the event that 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 backwards and use a chain ratchet to secure the load.

    9. When using straps, follow these steps:

    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.

    10. Check Your Load Frequently

    Stop to check your load and ensure chains and straps are secure after the first 25 miles of driving.  You are required by law to stop again every 3 hours or 150 miles for routine checks to ensure your load is secure.  Look for chains or straps that have loosened or straps that have possibly rubbed and could be causing cuts or frays from rubbing.

      It’s always the responsibility of the driver to ensure the trailer is loaded properly, even if the trailer is loaded by someone other than the driver.

      For more information about cargo securement, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website.

      If you have questions about renting a trailer in Lake Elsinore or anywhere in Southern CA, call Big Trailer Rentals at 951-514-6980.

      This article was revised to improve accuracy on October 16, 2023.

      Disclaimer: The information contained on this page is provided by Big Trailer Rentals, LLC as a general guide to assist with loading a trailer and is not endorsed by DOT or FMCSA.  Each trailer and loading situation is different and some information may be omitted from this guide.  It is recommended that you check your own resources and federal and local laws pertaining to safety regulations while loading and hauling with a  trailer.  Big Trailer Rentals, LLC is in no way liable for use or implementation of information provided in this guide.