What is a Bill of Lading? It’s Essential for Shipping Businesses

June 27, 2022


What is a Bill of Lading?

A Bill of Lading (BoL) is a legal document that ensures the goods being transported are delivered to their intended destination per agreed-upon terms by a transportation company. It typically contains details such as the name and address of the consignee, cargo description, weight, pallet count, measurements, dates, and the signature of the transport agent/pilot-in-command (if different from the carrier).

It plays a vital role in conveyancing – it helps ensure smooth transmission of ownership between the parties. In addition, ensuring accuracy at every stage along the transporting process – from loading onto the ship to delivery at port or warehouse – a good bill of lading can minimize potential conflict or disputes stemming from misunderstandings about freight documentation.

Bill of Lading Examples

The shipment bill spells out all the details about the cargo, such as its origin, weight, and destination. This information is important because it allows the receiver to pay for the goods and take possession of them. A bill of lading should be legible and easy to locate on the document. It may include reference numbers, such as Purchase Order or other reference numbers, dates, item descriptions, packing type, and NMFC freight class.

Few common examples:

  • Straight Bill of Lading

straight bill of lading

This Bill of Lading is typically used to ship goods to a customer who has already paid for them.

  • Multimodal Bill of Lading

multimodal bill of lading

This type of Bill of Lading is used when you combine shipping methods.

  • Inland Bill of Lading

inland bill of lading

This type of freight bill is often the first transportation document issued for international shipment. They are used for cargo shipments by rail or road, but not by sea.

  • Air Waybill

air waybill

The air waybill is the equivalent of an ocean bill of lading for air transport. However, unlike the ocean bill of lading, it cannot be negotiable; in other words, it may not be consigned “to order”.

  • Ocean Bill of Lading (Sea Waybill)

ocean bill of lading

This bill of lading is used for shipping goods overseas. It authorizes the holder or another party to take possession of the goods. Ocean bills of lading can be straight bills of lading or consigned “to order” bills of lading.

Why is a Bill of Lading important?

A Bill of Lading is an important legal document that facilitates the transfer of goods between two parties. It includes details such as the name, quantity, destination, and other pertinent information. This makes it a valuable tool for businesses because it allows them to track the progress of their shipments and avoid any disputes or misunderstandings.

A bill of lading is crucial because it’s a legally binding document that provides the carrier and shipper with all of the necessary details to process a shipment accurately. This implies that it can be used in litigation if the need should arise and that all parties involved will take great pains to ensure the document’s accuracy ( 49 U.S. Code Chapter 801 – BILLS OF LADING ).

What is in a Bill of Lading?

  • Location names and their address

Listed full location names of both shipper and consignee and their address.

  • Purchase order or any other reference numbers

Listed purchase order, Bill of Lading, Delivery, or any other reference numbers, that are necessary for the product to be released for pickup or accepted at the delivery.

  • Instructions

Listed instructions for the carrier that are not extra service requests.

  • Dates

Listed pickup and delivery dates.

  • Item descriptions

Listed information about the product that is being shipped. Weight, dimensions (if necessary), product description, and a number of units/packages/pallets.

  • Packaging type

Listed packaging types such as pallets, cartons, crates, or drums.

  • NMFC freight class

Freight is divided into 18 types of classes, ranging from a low of class 50 to a high of 500 and it identifies the type of freight being shipped.

  • Department of Transportation hazardous material designation

Hazardous shipments must be listed, due to special rules and requirements applied when shipping.

Why Do I Need a Bill of Lading?

A Bill of Lading (BoL) is a document that is used to acknowledge receipt of goods being shipped. It also serves as a contract between the shipper and the carrier. This document is important because it provides evidence of the transaction and outlines the terms of the shipping agreement.

Without this document, the consignee may not know what the motor carrier is bringing to them, which could lead to misunderstandings. Motor Carrier is required to transport the shipment with its correspondent paperwork (BoL) (Federal Regulation Website), also trucking company is at risk of not getting compensation for transporting the products without the documents.

Frequently Asked Questions



The bill of lading is a required document to move a freight shipment. The bill of lading (BOL) works as a receipt of freight services, a contract between a freight carrier, shipper, consignee and a document of title. The bill of lading is a legally binding document providing the driver and the carrier with all the details needed to process the freight shipment and invoice it correctly.

An invoice is an acknowledgment of a sale or contract, while a bill of lading is the document that mandates delivery and documents all aspects of the transaction. When you receive your goods, they will be delivered per the terms stipulated by the Bill of Lading. An invoice can also act as proof of credit or payment if necessary. Ultimately, an invoice provides essential information about a purchase or contract and should be treated as such.

In the end, a BOL can be created by one of three entities: the shipper, the carrier, or the 3PL working on the shipper’s behalf. A shipper frequently prefers to use their BOL generated through their ERP system as it can be super specific and customized to what they need.

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