Deck cargo is shipping cargo carried on the deck instead of inside the ship. Certain types of cargo must be carried on the deck by law, while others may be carried on deck by convenience or to address space concerns while loading the ship. Such cargo must be carefully secured to prevent losses and reduce the risk of injury on the part of the ship's crew, as people will be directly exposed to the deck cargo while working on the ship.
Livestock is often carried as deck cargo when there are concerns about ventilation and safety belowdecks. Specialized pens may be built on deck or livestock can be carried in crates. Another object carried in this manner is explosives. In many regions, people cannot carry explosives belowdecks for safety reasons. In addition to being carried on deck, they also need to be clearly labeled so people are aware of the risks.
Aircraft, trucks, and other large cargoes may be carried on deck as it may not be possible to stow them belowdecks. Either they are so large that they cannot fit inside the cargo space, or the openings to the cargo hold are not large enough, or the cranes and other devices used for cargo handling in the hold are not rated for such heavy loads. Sometimes, large cargo is carried in pieces, as seen with aircraft, where the wings may be detached and carried separately to allow the whole plane to fit on a ship. Timber and other building materials can also be classified as deck cargo, along with things like prefabricated materials for construction.
Deck cargo can be carried in containers in some cases, while in others, it may be lashed directly to the decks of the ship and covered with protective materials. For bulky and large cargoes too big for containerization, this may be necessary. In all cases, the cargo is thoroughly inspected when it is placed and the load is carefully balanced for safety. Papers documenting the type of cargo and its history must also be carried, including lading papers detailing where the cargo originated and where it is going.
Insurers typically treat deck cargo differently than other types of cargo. There is an increased risk of loss with such cargo and insurers may limit situations where they will pay claims, or require people to buy separate cargo insurance for this type of cargo. This is done to reduce liability for the insurer.