A bill of lading (BOL) is a document issued by a carrier that specifies information about a shipment made. It is the primary document in the carriage of goods. There are usually three copies made for each shipment. One for the shipper, one for the receiver, and one for record/third party.
BOLs are said to serve three main purposes:
Receipt by the carrier to the shipper acknowledging the receipt of the cargo by the carrier
State terms and conditions of the contract between the shipper and the carrier
Evidence of title of goods in some cases.
As an extension of these purposes, a BOL may be used as evidence to support disputes. A carrier may use it to describe the conditions of the goods when loaded on board. (Carriers will note any damages observed and mark the BOL with a description. Otherwise, the BOL is referred to as a clean bill of lading and assumed to be in good condition). Also, a BOL may be used to support a specific tariff treatment for customs compliance since it provides information about where the goods originated and any transshipments that have taken place.
Generally, a bill of lading should include these elements
Name and address of the shipper (consigner)
Name and address of the receiver (consignee)
Name of the carrier
Customer order information
Freight Terms (COD (Cash on Delivery) Amount if it applies)
Type and/or description of the goods being shipped
Quantity of the goods
Special Instructions (hazardous material handling, fragile, perishables)
Two Categories of Bill of Ladings
Straight bill of lading is used when goods have been paid for in advance. It is non-negotiable and not transferable meaning title of the goods can only be taken by the consignee.
Order bill of lading is used when goods have been purchased on credit or consigned to another party such as a bank. It is negotiable and title of goods may be transferred while enroute to destination.