Bill of Lading: A Comprehensive Overview

Bill of Lading


What is a Bill of Lading?

The bill of lading (BOL) is an important document that provides much-needed information for both the shipper and the carrier. This is a document that is also required by law in order to move any sort of freight shipments. Essentially, this is a receipt of services that acts as a contractual agreement between the freight carrier and the shipper.

This document is legally binding and provides both parties with the information needed to handle and invoice the freight shipment correctly.


What is Contained on a Bill of Lading?

You will find several pieces of information on the bill of lading.

  • The names of both the shipper and receiver, including their full addresses, will be listed usually towards the top of the document in a place that is easy to locate and read.
  • The bill of lading may contain essential reference numbers such as a confirmation number, purchase order number, or even an invoice number to release the freight or be accepted.
  • An area containing special instructions for the carrier may list specific delivery instructions about particular gates or areas preferred or required by either the sender or the receiver.
  • The date listed on the bill of lading is the pickup date, the day the freight was picked up by the carrier. This can be used to track your freight delivery.
  • A description of items will be found somewhere in the middle of the document usually. It should provide a list of the item names, noting the number of units, dimensions, and weight, and what type of materials it’s made of, if relevant. The packaging type should also be listed, using measurements like crates, cartons, drums, or pallets.
  • The NMFC freight class will also be listed. This critical classification can impact the cost of shipping. Shipments of freight are categorized by weight, dimensions, density, ease of handling, liability, and storage capability into eighteen different freight classes to determine freight shipping costs.
  • The BOL will also have hazardous materials designations required by the Department of Transportation. Materials that may be hazardous must be designated, and specific rules and measures must take place when shipping based on the type of material.
  • At the bottom, comments including special notes, general rules, regulations, and agreements between parties may be written, and signature lines for those parties involved are provided.


The Roles of The Bill of Lading

The bill of lading plays three essential roles in the freight shipment process.

First, it acts as a receipt of goods and is issued to the shipper by the carrier in exchange for the freight being shipped. This is proof of receipt between the shipper and carrier.

Secondly, it is a document providing evidence of a contract between the carrier and the shipper. Furthermore, it is a contract between the shipper and the carrier for transportation services of the freight between the buyer and seller.

Lastly, it serves as a document of title for the goods being shipped. The holder of the BOL can have the freight transferred to their possession and has the right to move that freight to another.


Keeping Your Documents Straight

The bill of lading is often mistaken for the freight bill, and while both documents contain similar information, they are vastly different for a variety of reasons.

While both documents will show the same information, the freight bill reveals more details on fees and various charges. These bits of information are vital when seeking more cost savings.


Types of Bills of Lading

There are several different types of bills of lading, all of which have the same function but have small differences. A straight BOL is non-negotiable and does not require payment upon delivery. An order bill of lading is issued to the shipped and transferable to a third party. A negotiable BOL means it can be transferred many times with signatures and must be written. A claused bill of lading is used to show damage to goods being delivered. There is also an electronic bill of lading which is the same document, just paperless.

Overall, the bill of lading is an important document with several different functions and must be in place in accordance with federal regulations to ensure all parts of a freight shipment, from carrier to driver to destination are in line.