• Joseph O'Donnell

What is a Bill of Lading?

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

The Bill of Lading (B/L or BoL) is one of the most important documents involved in shipping... but why and what is it?

Well, the B/L is a legal transport document that is issued by the carrier to the shipper. This document acts as 3 main things:

  1. The legal contract and evidence of freight services between the carrier and the shipper.

  2. The Receipt that the cargo has been correctly loaded onto the transport vessel.

  3. The Title of the goods, which usually must be presented by the consignee to retrieve the goods from the carrier.

What information is on the B/L?


The B/L is a highly detailed document that contains the information necessary to legally transport goods. Below is just some of the basic information that is found on a B/L:

  • Carrier: the party responsible for transporting the goods.

  • Shipper: the party that is responsible for and originates the shipment. Often times the supplier or owner of the goods is the shipper, but not always. It can also be the buyer.

  • Consignee: the party that the carrier must deliver the goods to. The consignee is not always the buyer of the goods. The consignee can be an agent or a bank that the buyer nominates to retrieve the goods from the carrier.

  • Origin and Destination: must include the commodity's (i.e. good) location of origin and its destination.

  • Commodity Details: must include a description of the commodity being shipped such as its dimensions, weight, quantity being shipped, and the HS code that accurately classifies the product. Whether or not a commodity is hazardous must also be listed as such materials are subject to specific regulations.

  • Packaging Type: must mention if the commodity is being transported on pallets, in crates, cartons or drums.

Consequence of errors on B/L


Keep in mind that errors on a B/L can cause some serious headaches. Clearing goods through customs, boarding goods onto a vessel, receiving payment or retrieving goods from the port can become challenging if any information is listed inaccurately. Consequently, companies can face fines, additional fees, longer transit times, and damaged business relationships.

Therefore, it is recommended that you take the time to review the B/L's accuracy, or that you seek assistance from a professional. Some freight forwarders (like Outer Seaways) even offer documentation assistance as an added service when handling your freight.


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