Key Crane Terminology to Know Before Starting Your Lifting Project

crane terminology concept with tower cranes in the foreground of a city skyline

You may have seen an ongoing construction project and were awed at how effortlessly cranes handle heavy loads. These modern marvels of human engineering have evolved into essential tools in the construction, manufacturing, shipbuilding and material loading industries. Multiple types of cranes exist, each with unique characteristics, transportation needs, and lifting capacities. 

Like any other specialist area, the crane industry uses a particular set of crane terminology to describe its equipment, accessories, and operations. Any misunderstanding among workers may lead to poor communication, job site injuries, project delays, and budget errors.

Maxim Crane has compiled this information to help answer your questions about renting crane or lifting equipment for your next project. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a newbie in the world of cranes, it won’t hurt to review this glossary of common crane terms you’re likely to encounter in the crane industry.

Standard Crane Terminology

Workers and crane operators use several technical phrases and terminologies in the crane industry. Identifying and understanding these crane lifting terms allows you to fully appreciate a crane’s immense potential.

Abnormal Operating Conditions

Extreme and unfavorable weather conditions can prevent safe crane operation. Strong winds and excessively low or high temperatures may damage the crane equipment and injure construction workers, while prevailing snowstorms or heavy rain decrease visibility and increase the risk of work-related accidents. 

Automatic Crane

Once activated, this crane type operates through a programmed cycle. Automated cranes have improved productivity, efficiency and safety on construction sites. 

Auxiliary Hoist

A supplementary hoisting unit that helps lower and raises lighter load units at higher speeds than the primary hoist. 


The boom is a long, fixed, or hydraulic armlike steel structure extending from the crane’s body. It is tasked with moving large objects into position during construction while supporting most of the load’s weight. The boom is among the largest crane lifting parts, influencing the crane’s max reach. 

Depending on the crane type, you may encounter a hydraulic or lattice boom. The hydraulic boom uses hydraulic pressure to extend and collapse sections in a telescoping manner when altering the crane’s reach. Truck cranes and all-terrain cranes often have a telescoping boom. 

The lattice boom is a more rigid variation comprising steel welded segments in a W or V pattern. This design gives the lattice boom more strength than a hydraulic boom. A tower and crawler crane are more likely to have lattice boom.


The crane’s main control center is usually fitted with a joystick to control the crane in moving and lifting objects. The cabin also has many windows to give the operator a clear visual when operating the crane.  


The minimum distance between a crane part and the nearest obstruction. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends a clearance distance of 2 inches laterally and 3 inches overhead for overhead and gantry cranes. 


The counterweight is mounted at the opposite end of the boom’s lift, offsetting the load’s weight. This prevents the crane from toppling over during operation. You can add or remove the weights to balance the current weight of the crane during transportation or hauling.  

Crane Load Chart

A load chart provides summarized information on the crane’s features, such as boom length, boom angle, lift capacity, and lift range. Crane operators use this chart to calculate a crane’s lifting capacity to avoid structural failure.

Crane Operator

Qualified personnel responsible for safely controlling the crane in lifting and moving a load on a construction site. OSHA obligates employers to have OSHA-certified crane operators for the safe and efficient use of the crane.

Crane Signaler

A person qualified to guide the crane operator when their view is obstructed. The crane signaler is responsible for ensuring the safe operation of the crane through standardized hand signals. To reduce confusion, one designated signaler at a time gives out instructions. 


The system that provides the lifting and lowering power of the crane. The hoist is made of steel cable wound around a hoist drum at the end of the boom. This system uses hydraulic or electric power to turn the hoist drum pulling the rope and raising the load off the ground.

Hook Block/Load Block

The steel enclosure acts as an indirect connection between the hook and hoist system. Inside the hook block are several sheaves or pulleys joined together using steel cables. This assembly prevents the attached load from rotating freely and altering the hoist ropes’ orientation. Otherwise, twisted hoist ropes tend to become overstressed and may break. 


A crane part that provides extra distance between the load and the crane body. This added range reduces the risk of damaging the crane’s body when lifting a longer and wider load. The jib further extends the maximum horizontal reach of the crane.

Lifting Devices

Crane lifting parts help ease the handling and hauling of different types of loads. Common crane lifting devices include magnets, beams, hooks and drums. 


Usually found on a tower crane, the mast connects the jib and base, giving the crane its height. Most masts have a triangular lattice structure that provides extra support during heavy crane lifting. Different lattice modules are connected to assemble the mast using screws to achieve the project’s desired height. The mast’s upper part has a rotating area, allowing 360-degree horizontal movement. You can also have a cabin fitted on the mast. 


Exceeding the maximum rated load capacity of the crane. If a crane is overloaded, the entire rig can fail at any point during operation. Fortunately, modern cranes come fitted with overload protective devices such as crane-rated capacity indicators and load monitors to avoid improper lifting. 

Rated Capacity

The maximum total load a heavy lifting equipment can hoist under certain working conditions without compromising the structural integrity of crane lifting parts. Before lifting, determine the crane’s rated capacity and stick below the recommended weight.

Rated Capacity Indicators

Rated capacity indicator (RCI) systems are a set of sensors that monitor the load a crane is lifting in real time. As the load status approaches the crane’s maximum rated capacity, the crane operator receives a visual or audible alert of a potential overload. 


A grooved wheel within the hook block holds the pulley system’s wire rope. This crane part allows for free movement of the wire rope while minimizing wear and tear, and the frictionless movement prevents premature damage to the hoist rope. 

Cast nylon is preferred to traditional cast iron in modern rigging crane pulleys. Nylon is a lighter, cheaper, and more durable alternative, making it a popular pulley raw material.   

Shock Loading

A sudden increase in load capacity on the crane’s lifting parts causes shock loading. The crane is a rigid structure not designed to handle rapid changes in load capacity and requires lifting and lowering at slow speeds to reduce shock loading.


A rope at the end of a raised load connected to personnel on the ground. The rope prevents the load from swinging or spinning. Taglines also help place and position a lowered load without direct contact with personnel. 

Outrigger/Auxiliary Girder 

A retractable or fixed beam found at the bottom section of the crane increases the crane’s stability during operation. The outrigger should be placed on a graded ground for equal weight distribution and better stability. 

Types of Cranes 

A Maxim crane on a sunny day

The heavy crane lifting sector relies on different crane types to haul, move, and lower materials at worksites. Cranes are categorized into mobile or static cranes based on how they operate.

Mobile Cranes

Mobile cranes are usually mounted on vehicles with tires or tracks. These cranes can easily move around the construction site while carrying heavy loads, making them a popular choice for many projects. Some are even road legal.

Aerial cranes

Aerial cranes are ideal for inaccessible areas or tasks like placing heavy equipment on tall buildings. Also known as sky cranes, these cranes can operate in areas without roads, increasing their range of operation. Sky cranes resemble a helicopter and lift heavy loads attached to a long cable or sling.

All-terrain cranes

All-terrain cranes are specially designed to operate on rough or paved roads, offering faster speeds and flexibility for different surface conditions. Compared to rough terrain cranes, all-terrain cranes have 4-18 wheels to enhance their maneuverability capabilities during crane lifting tasks.

All-terrain cranes are larger with wider cabins to provide extra comfort to the crane operator. They also come fitted with two big engines to increase their weight and stability when hoisting loads. Outriggers and counterweights can further increase their stability.

Carry deck cranes

Carry deck cranes are among the smallest in the crane industry and are a premier option for sites that need compact and low-profile cranes. These cranes have a rotating 360-degree boom mounted on a small four-wheeled vehicle to allow for lifting and moving materials in confined spaces. You can also use the self-loading deck above the wheels to load and move materials when lifting with the crane. 

Crawler cranes 

Instead of the conventional wheels found on most mobile cranes, crawler cranes use rubber tracks fitted on the undercarriage to move. The tracks ensure the crane is in contact with a larger surface area, preventing the crane from sinking into soft ground. The crawler crane is ideal for underdeveloped construction sites with rough or slippery terrain. Our crawler crane equipment has a load carry capacity of between 80-2,535 tons. 

Rough terrain cranes

Designed to operate in the toughest terrain, rough terrain cranes are a remarkable achievement of off-road engineering. Some unique features, such as excellent ground clearance and oversized rubber tires, make traversing obstacles and uneven terrain safe and easy. Contemporary rough terrain cranes are fitted with three steering modes:

  • All-wheel steering. The front wheels turn left while the rear wheels turn left. A smaller turning radius allows for maximum crane maneuverability when making tight turns.
  • All-wheel crab steering. Both the front and rear wheels turn in one direction once. You can drive in a horizontal or diagonal direction.
  • Front-wheel steering. This conventional steering mode only allows the front wheel to turn when steering, allowing for safe driving even at high speeds.

These steering modes give the crane operator better control when traveling on muddy, snowy, and steep ground. Due to their compact size and frame, you can also navigate tight spaces.

Vehicle-mounted cranes

Vehicle-mounted cranes are sometimes called truck-mounted cranes and consist of two parts: the truck and a boom. Due to this unique build, the truck-mounted crane can easily travel on public roads. You save on logistic costs since you don’t have to acquire special transportation equipment. However, these cranes lift lighter loads compared to other cranes. To increase their carrying capacity, you’ll have to fit outriggers and counterweights to improve stability.

Static Cranes

A static crane is a temporary or permanent structure secured to a specific spot to hoist loads along a fixed path. It makes up for limited mobility by lifting heavier loads than a mobile crane. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the “Taisun” crane, an example of an overhead crane, deadlifted the heaviest load weighing 20,133 tons.

Bulk handling cranes

A bulk-handling crane handles large volumes of heavy materials such as minerals and coal. During crane lifting the device uses a unique bucket-like mechanism to grab, hold, and hoist material during crane lifting. 

Overhead cranes

An overhead crane is a permanently installed structure on sites requiring repetitive tasks. This crane has a horizontal beam supported by one or two steel beams, and a trolley and hoist are placed along the horizontal steel beam that moves from side to side. 

Overhead cranes include:

  • Gantry cranes. This overhead crane has two A-frame steel support legs holding up the horizontal beam. You’ll commonly see a gantry crane removing cargo from ships at ports and shipping docks.
  • Jib cranes. This overhead crane has a jib on either a floor-mounted pillar or a wall, with an adjustable hoist that lifts and lowers loads. 

Tower cranes

tower cranes in foreground of a city

The tower crane is an essential piece of equipment in the urban construction of tall buildings. The mast is anchored to the ground using concrete, with a jib and counter jib extending horizontally. The jib can rotate 360 degrees around the mast in a slewing motion, with a hook block and trolley traveling the entire jib length. Often, smaller mobile cranes assemble the tower crane on site. Check out our load chart library to find the ideal tower crane for your project. 

The different types of tower cranes include:

  • Hammerhead cranes. This heavy-duty tower crane resembles an upside-down L. The jib height remains constant, making the hammerhead crane ideal for construction sites with limited space. You can rent an A-frame or flat-top hammerhead crane, depending on your needs. The A-frame has a metal structure at the top of the mast, connecting the jib to the counter jib. This design allows the crane to lift heavier loads. The flat-top design lacks a metal structure and lifts lighter weights. However, this design is a good match for construction sites with low headroom. 
  • Luffing tower cranes. This type of tower crane has a luffing jib that you can lower or raise, giving it added flexibility in the range of motion. The luffing tower crane can hoist heavier loads compared to a hammerhead crane. Also, the luffing tower crane’s small swinging radius is ideal for sites operating multiple cranes.
  • Self-erecting tower cranes (SETCs). Considered the lightweights of the static crane family, SETCs can fold and unfold easily. This design makes SETCs ideal for short-term projects since you can conveniently erect and dismantle the crane on-site. However, the SETC has a much lower maximum load capacity than other tower cranes.  

Choose Maxim Crane 

3 Hard hats with the Maxim logo on them

With this extensive insight into crane types, parts, personnel, and phrases, you can make informed decisions during crane lifting. Crane safety is a critical aspect of any construction site. When every crew member on-site has some knowledge of crane lifting terms and how they apply, the site is safer.Do you want to hire a construction crane? Choose Maxim Crane for your next crane rental needs. We have an extensive inventory of heavy lifting equipment available for hire. Contact our expert today to get a quote on your desired crane.

Disclaimer Statement:

We hope you found this article informative. Our content is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute advice or necessarily reflect the range of services Maxim Crane Works, LP provides. Readers should not act upon this information without first seeking assistance from a qualified industry professional. For crane recommendations for your specific project, consider speaking with one of our sales professionals. Although we attempt to ensure that postings on our blog are complete and accurate, we assume no responsibility for their completeness or accuracy.


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