What is Backhaul?
In freight and shipping, backhaul refers to the journey of transporting medium (vessel, containers, rails, trucks) from its port of destination back to the original port of origin. In simpler terms, it is like booking a round-trip from origin to destination and back to the origin, like round-trip flight bookings.
Here, we’d be referring to backhauling of shipping vessels or containers only.
So, if you ship a container from the Port of New York (U.S.A.) to the Port of Durban (South Africa) and move it back to the Port of New York, this would be called backhaul.
However, backhaul doesn’t necessarily mean taking the entire round-trip. It can be part of the route as well.
For example, if you ship from Port A (origin) → Port B → Port C → Port D (destination); your vessel returns from Port D (destination) → Port C → Port B (final destination), this is also called backhaul.
Other terms that mean the same as backhaul include return load, return trip load, return freight, back-load, backhaul cargo, return cargo, or return load carriage.
Backhaul v/s Headhaul
Headhaul or Fronthaul refers to vessel movement from port of origin to port of destination only and is the most revenue-generating for the shipper with optimized freight capacity.
Backhaul means moving the same vessel from the destination back to its origin and might have lower transportation costs.
Why is Backhaul preferred?
Backhauling is favored by most shippers and freight forwarders, and rightly so.
Backhaul makes economic sense
Freight forwarders often look for options to get cargo and freight bookings for their containers from the destination port back to the origin port to save time, costs, and resources.
Since moving the empty container/vessels back to the port of origin often costs the same amount as transporting them fully loaded, backhauling is the right choice.
Backhaul tackles supply-chain disparity
Backhauling is also a preferred solution to tackle inconsistencies in the demand-supply chain network, especially during peak seasons.
This applies to port destinations where there are more inbound containers, rather than outbound containers. So, instead of bearing the costs of deadhead miles, shippers choose to backhaul ships or containers (even at lower prices) – but with loaded cargo.
Backhaul is more viable & sustainable
Transporting empty vessels or containers also requires fuel and other resources, adding to the carbon footprint. As vessels/containers need to return to their ports of origin, loading them with cargo and making the journey back is only justifiable and practicable here.
Thus, backhauling is a more sustainable choice — both for the business and the earth.
Backhaul v/s Deadhead
Deadheading is a type of backhaul when a ship, rail, or truck travels with cargo but returns empty. Herein, the shipper loses a big margin of their profits with deadheading.
In freight, deadhead containers are a big problem. This can be solved by empty container repositioning.
Terms related to Backhaul
- Aggregate shipping
- Estimated time of arrival
- Estimated time of departure
- Full container load
- Less than container load
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