Bill of Lading (BOL or B/L)

What is a Bill of Lading

No matter if you manage your shipping operations independently or with the help of a freight forwarder, it is essential for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to understand the concept of a Bill of Lading. Here, you will learn everything you need to know about bills of lading, who issues them, and how the process works.


What is a Bill of Lading in International Shipping?

Let’s start by defining what is a Bill of Lading (BOL) in the international shipping industry.


Bill of Lading Definition

A Bill of Lading (BOL) is a key document in the shipping industry, serving as a contract between the shipper and carrier. It provides a detailed account of the shipped goods, including type, quantity, date of shipment, origin, and destination. 

This legal document also acts as a receipt upon delivery and, crucially, confers ownership, making the document an essential part of the logistics and international shipping industry.


Who Typically Issues the Bill of Lading?

Typically, it is the carrier or its agent that issues the Bill of Lading upon receipt of goods for shipment. It’s handed over to the shipper once the goods have been loaded onto the transport vessel, confirming that the carrier has received the cargo as described.


The Bill of Lading and Customs

Customs authorities require a BOL for the clearance of goods, as it serves as proof of the contract of carriage and ownership.


Legal Standing and Obligations

As a legal document, the BOL commits the carrier to deliver the goods at the agreed destination. Non-compliance can lead to legal consequences.


How Freight Forwarders Handle the Bill of Lading for SMBs

Freight forwarders handle and supervise all aspects of the Bill of Lading, as well as other shipping operations and documentation for their clients. With the right freight forwarding partner, SMBs can do what they do best and stay focused on their core business. 


What’s Included in a Bill of Lading?

A Straight Bill of Lading generally includes the following:

  • Shipper and receiver’s names and addresses.
  • Description of goods (type, quantity, weight).
  • Origin and destination of the cargo.
  • Date of shipment.
  • Freight charges (if applicable).

It’s crucial to fill out this information accurately in order to prevent delays or complications in the shipping process.


Types of Bill of Lading

Understanding the various attributes of Bills of Lading is crucial in international shipping. Each attribute carries distinct implications and responsibilities. 

It’s common to refer to different combinations of these attributes as ‘types’ of Bills of Lading. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that these ‘types’ are not mutually exclusive categories. Instead, there can be different features that can coexist within a single Bill of Lading.

  • Uniform Bill of Lading: A standardized form of BOL that is universally accepted. It is used in the transportation industry, providing terms and conditions of carriage.
  • Original Bill of Lading: A crucial document issued by the shipping company confirming the receipt of goods, detailing the contract of carriage, and declaring ownership of the goods. Original BOL is often required for the consignee to claim goods.
  • Electronic Bill of Lading: A digital version of the traditional Bill of Lading. This speeds up the shipping documentation process and reduces paperwork.
  • Straight Bill of Lading: This is a non-negotiable BOL where the goods are consigned directly to a specifically named party.
  • Negotiable Bill of Lading: Also known as an Order BOL, it allows the transfer of ownership of goods while they’re still in transit.
  • Non-negotiable Bill of Lading: Opposite to the negotiable BOL, it specifies the goods are consigned to a named party, and ownership cannot be transferred.
  • Order Bill of Lading: A type of negotiable BOL in which goods are consigned to the order of a specific party.
  • Bearer Bill of Lading: This BOL allows the goods to be delivered to the person who holds the bill.
  • Inland Bill of Lading: Used for the transportation of goods within a country, not crossing international waters.
  • Ocean Bill of Lading: Used when transporting goods across international waters. It can be negotiable or non-negotiable.
  • Air Waybill: AWB functions as a Bill of Lading for air freight. It is a receipt issued by an international airline for goods.
  • Through Bill of Lading: Facilitates multimodal transportation, covering multiple modes of transport from origin to final destination.
  • Multimodal Bill of Lading: This BOL is used when goods are transported using multiple (at least two) different modes of transport.
  • Received For Shipment Bill of Lading: An acknowledgment confirming that the carrier has received the goods but does not confirm if they have been loaded onto the vessel.
  • Express Bill of Lading: This type of Bill of Lading is usually used in scenarios in which a shipment must be expedited through the shipping process.
  • On-Board Bill of Lading: Indicates that the goods have been loaded onto the transport vessel, signifying the carrier’s obligation towards the goods.
  • Clean Bill of Lading: Issued when the shipped goods are in apparent good order and condition, without any clauses declaring a defective condition.
  • Claused Bill of Lading: Also known as a “Dirty Bill of Lading” or a “Foul Bill of Lading,” it indicates that the goods were damaged when loaded or that the shipment did not meet the agreed terms.
  • Master Bill of Lading: A Master Bill of Lading is issued by the primary carrier of goods for the transportation of multiple shipments that are loaded in one vessel and consigned to one destination.
  • House Bill of Lading: Issued by a freight forwarder or consolidator for a shipment within a larger consolidated shipment.
  • Surrender Bill of Lading: A document issued by exporters that allows importers to legally take ownership of the items in the cargo.
  • Charter Party Bill of Lading: A contract for the hire of a vessel or space in a vessel issued under a charter party agreement.

A Bill of Lading (BOL) is a multifaceted document that plays several roles in the transportation of goods. Notably, a single BOL can simultaneously embody multiple attributes. For instance, one document can act as an Ocean BOL, indicating it’s used for international maritime transport, adhere to a universal format as a Standard BOL, and concurrently serve as a Clean BOL, verifying the goods were accepted in a condition free from noted defects. 

In order to fully grasp this concept, you need to understand that these terms cannot exist in isolation. Instead, they refer to distinct aspects or features of a BOL. 

In this regard, they are capable of characterizing:

  • The mode of transport (e.g., Ocean, Inland, Air Waybill).
  • Negotiability (Negotiable or Non-negotiable).
  • The condition of the goods at the time of receipt (Clean or Claused/Dirty), 
  • Other specialized forms (Original, Electronic, House, Master). 

Therefore, terms such as Ocean, Standard, and Clean BOL are not mutually exclusive but describe various facets of the same document, reflecting its usage, negotiability, condition of goods, and form.


How Ship4wd Assists SMBs

With Ship4wd as your trusted digital freight forwarder, you can count on us to take your SMB shipping operations to the next level. 

Our services include Full Container Load (FCL) and Less than Container Load (LCL), catering to various SMB shipping requirements. 

We provide a range of services, including managing and coordinating carriers that will transport your cargo worldwide, dealing with customs clearance, door-to-door and port-to-door delivery, and even offering cargo insurance and flexible financing options.

To provide you with the best service, we offer 24/7 customer support and advanced tracking so you can keep track of your cargo and have someone available to answer your questions whenever you need it.

Sign up to Ship4wd today and find out how we can enhance your shipping process. 

Frequently Asked Questions About the Bill of Lading for SMBs


Why Are There Different Types of Bills of Lading?

There are different types of Bills of Lading because each type serves unique purposes in the shipping process. They differ based on the mode of transport, terms of delivery, transferability of ownership, and many other factors. In reality, these aren’t types but rather attributes that describe different aspects of the same document, not mutually exclusive. 


What Are The Differences Between an Original Bill of Lading and a Telex Release Bill of Lading?

An Original Bill of Lading is a hard copy document issued by the carrier that acts as a title of the goods. On the other hand, a Telex Release is a message sent electronically by the shipping line’s origin office to the destination office, allowing the release of goods without the Original BOL.


How is a Bill of Lading Used in Different Modes of Transportation?

In various modes of transportation, a BOL serves as a receipt issued by the carrier, a contract of carriage, and a document of title. For example, in ocean freight shipping it’s called Ocean BOL. In air transport, it’s an air waybill, and in road transport, it’s a Consignment Note or Waybill.


How Does a Bill of Lading Factor into Freight Transactions?

A BOL plays a crucial role in freight transactions. It provides details about the shipper, receiver, and the goods being transported. It serves as proof of shipment for the seller, a document of title for the buyer, and a contract of carriage for the carrier.


How do Customs Procedures Affect My Bill of Lading?

Customs procedures require a BOL for the clearance of goods. It helps to verify the nature, quantity, and destination of the goods being shipped, which is essential for the proper assessment of customs duties and taxes.


What Are My Legal Responsibilities With a Bill of Lading?

As a shipper (with the assistance of your freight forwarder), your legal responsibilities with a BOL include providing accurate details about the goods being shipped, ensuring that they are properly packaged, and meeting all shipping regulations. As a carrier, the responsibilities include delivering the goods as per the contract of carriage.


How Can I Avoid Common Mistakes With The Bill of Lading?

To avoid common mistakes with the BOL, ensure the information you provide is accurate, including the shipper’s and receiver’s details, the description of the goods, the number of packages, and their weight. Also, always verify the type of BOL used and understand its implications. Another option would be to work with a freight forwarding company to help you take care of all documentation, including the bill of lading.


Is a Bill of Lading a Legally Binding Document?

Yes, a Bill of Lading is a legally binding document that serves as a contract between the shipper and the carrier. It obligates the carrier to deliver the goods at the designated place in exchange for freight charges.


What Happens if the Bill of Lading is Lost or Misplaced?

If a Bill of Lading is lost or misplaced, it can potentially cause significant delays and complications. As it’s a crucial document for claiming the shipment at the destination, without it, the goods might not be released. The shipper or consignee usually has to obtain a duplicate or apply for a ‘letter of indemnity,’ promising to compensate the carrier for any potential losses or liabilities caused by the release of goods without the original BOL.


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