What Is a Bill of Lading in Shipping?

A Bill of Lading serves as a contract between the shipper and the carrier, a receipt for the shipped goods and a document of title. Essentially, the BOL ensures all parties agree to the terms of the shipment and that the carrier acknowledges receipt of the goods.

The Purpose of a Bill of Lading

This important document provides the carrier and the shipper with all necessary details, terms and conditions to accurately process a shipment. It's undisputed proof of shipment once the goods are loaded onto the transport vehicle and confirmation that the carrier has received the goods in the specified condition. All parties involved take great pains to ensure the accuracy of the document so they can avoid potential litigation.

The BOL can also be used to transfer ownership of the goods. This feature is particularly important in international trade, where goods have the potential to be sold multiple times while in transit.

Types of Bills of Lading

Each BOL serves a different purpose to ensure proper documentation and compliance with existing regulations. Some types include:

  • Through: Transportation within domestic and across international borders

  • Inland: Covers transport by rail, road or inland waterway

  • Ocean: Cargo shipped across international waters

For ground transport, especially via truck, the most common type is the Straight Bill of Lading.

A Straight Bill of Lading is non-negotiable. This means the goods are consigned to a specific person or entity and cannot be transferred to another party. This type of BOL is used for shipments sent directly to the consignee.

Electronic Bill of Lading

With the advancement of digital technology, the Electronic Bill of Lading has emerged as a modern alternative to traditional paper-based BOLs. The eBOL offers numerous benefits for carriers, including:

  • Faster processing times and streamlined operations

  • Reduced paperwork and administrative costs

  • Improved data accuracy

Digital standards, such as those being developed by NMFTA, ensure eBOLs are consistent and secure.

For more information, visit the NMFTA's digital standards development page.

BOL Frequently Asked Questions

What Information Should Be Included?

  • Consignor's (shipper's) name and address

  • Date of the shipment

  • Consignee's name and address

  • National Motor Freight Classification code to determine the freight class and shipping rates

  • Packaging type (e.g., cartons, pallets, etc.)

  • Description of the goods

  • Quantity of the goods

  • Weight and dimensions of the shipment

  • Any special instructions for the carrier

Who Issues the Bill of Lading?

The carrier or the shipper typically issues the Bill of Lading. In some cases, a third-party logistics provider may prepare the BOL on behalf of the shipper. You should always ensure the BOL is accurately completed and signed by the shipper and the carrier to validate the contract of carriage.

Who Is the Consignee on a Bill of Lading?

The consignee on a Bill of Lading is the person or entity to whom the goods are being shipped. They're responsible for receiving the shipment at the specified destination. Accurately record the consignee's name and address on the BOL to ensure proper delivery.

How Do You Prepare a Bill of Lading?

Preparing a Bill of Lading involves several steps:

  1. Gather information. Collect all necessary details about the shipment, including the shipper's and consignee's information, description of the goods and NMFC codes.

  2. Complete the form. Fill out the BOL form with the gathered information. Ensure all fields are accurately completed to avoid delays or issues during transport.

  3. Review and sign. Double-check the completed BOL. Both the shipper and carrier must sign the document to acknowledge the terms of the shipment.

  4. Distribute copies. Provide copies of the BOL to the shipper, carrier and consignee. Retain a copy for your records.

BOL forms can usually be obtained from the carrier or a third-party logistics provider or downloaded from industry websites.

Key Takeaways

The BOL helps prevent theft, serving as a contract, receipt and document of title. Whether you're using traditional paper BOLs or adopting eBOLs, you need to know how to properly prepare and use these documents.

If you have questions about going digital or integrating eBOL into your existing processes, reach out to NMFTA. We offer resources and guidance on digital standards and how to make the transition to electronic documentation smooth and efficient.