What is a Bill of Lading?

A Bill of Lading, quite literally a 'list of cargo,' functions as a receipt for the goods transferred from the exporter to the carrier. It establishes a contract between the shipper and the carrier, particularly when there's no separate contract in place. The carrier issues the BOL, acknowledging the receipt of the goods in good condition.

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Functions of the Bill of Lading:

  • Evidence of Contract: It serves as evidence of the agreement between the shipper and the carrier, providing a legal basis for the transaction.
  • Receipt of Goods: The ship's master or captain typically verifies the receipt of goods and forwards this confirmation to the seller's agent.
  • Document of Title: The Bill of Lading represents the title of the goods. Buyers can claim the goods by presenting this document at the destination port, which can also be used to secure advances or loans from financial institutions.
  • Unique Identifier: Each Master Bill of Lading carries a unique number that helps the shipping company identify the shipment. This number is used for tracking the container's journey during shipment.
  • Purpose and Importance in Exports: After the goods are shipped, possession shifts from the exporter to the carrier, even if payment has not been received by the exporter. This makes the Bill of Lading a critical component of the transaction. It allows the exporter to relinquish control of the packages to the carrier while retaining indirect control over the goods during transport.

Additionally, the information contained in the BOL influences various activities, including shipment destination, package count, billing details, payment instructions, and handling instructions at docks or trailers.

Issuers of the Bill of Lading

In a typical trade transaction, two types of Bills of Lading are issued:

  • House Bill of Lading (HBL): Issued by the CHA (Customs House Agent), freight forwarder, or NVOCC (Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier). While linked to the Master Bill of Lading, the HBL is not legally enforceable.
  • Master Bill of Lading (MBL): Issued by the shipping company (Vessel Operating Common Carrier) to the seller or their nominee, depending on the incoterms of the export. Responsibilities, including duties and insurance, vary based on incoterms.
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Negotiable and Non-negotiable BL:

  • Negotiable BL: This type is transferable to a third party and instructs the carrier to deliver goods to the holder of the original endorsed BOL. Lack of the original document prevents cargo release from the port.
  • Non-negotiable BL: Designed for specific buyers, consignees, receivers, or agents, this type must be accompanied by other documentation to authenticate the transaction.

Cost of a Bill of Lading

The cost of a Bill of Lading, typically ranging from USD 5 to 20 dollars, is charged by the cargo carrier. These charges are payable at the time of releasing the BOL and cover all associated documentation expenses.

Varieties of Bills of Lading (BL)

Bills of Lading (BL) come in various types, tailored to specific terms, conditions, and circumstantial requirements. Here's an overview of 15 distinct types of Bills of Lading:

  • Clean Bill of Lading: Issued by the shipper or its agents, it carries no indication of defective goods on board.
  • Claused Bill of Lading: This type highlights damage to the consignment or missing parts of it.
  • Switch Bill Of Lading: Employed when the seller wishes to withhold supplier information from the buyer.
  • Received for Shipment Bill of Lading: An acknowledgment from the carrier before vessel loading, confirming receipt of goods for shipping.
  • Through Bill of Lading: Permits the carrier to transport a shipment via multiple modes or distribution centers, including Ocean and Inland Bill of Lading.
  • Master Bill of Lading: Issued by carriers for their shipping companies, outlining transportation terms, shipper and consignor details, consignee, and possessor of the goods.
  • House Bill of Lading: Generated by non-vessel operating companies or ocean transportation intermediary freight forwarders, affirming the receipt of shipped goods. Also known as Forwarder's Bill of Lading, it's issued to suppliers upon receipt of the shipment.
  • Short Form/Blank Back Bill of Lading: Necessary when shipping contract terms are absent in the original Bill of Lading.
  • Straight Bill of Lading: This type confers no greater rights to the endorsee than to the endorser, often viewed as risky from a banking perspective.
  • Order Bill of Lading: Delivery aligns with further orders from the consignee.
  • Charter Party Bill of Lading: Represents an agreement between a vessel owner and charterer for the shipment of goods.
  • Multimodal Transport Document (Combined Transport Document): A form of Through Bill of Lading involving both land and ocean transportation.
  • Stale Bill of Lading: Provided 21 days after the shipment date (or other specified dates) for negotiation.
  • Surrender Bill of Lading: Terms require the negotiating bank's receipt to be presented to release documents.
  • Bearer Bill of Lading: Allows delivery to the holder of the bill, facilitating negotiation by physically delivering the goods.

Contents of a Bill of Lading (BL):

The precise content of a Bill of Lading varies depending on its type, shipping terms, and business arrangements. However, a typical BOL generally includes the following information:

  • Name and particulars of the shipping line.
  • Shipping bill number and date.
  • Name, address, and contact details of the shipper and receiver, along with the shipment date for tracking.
  • Purchase order number or a similar reference number, facilitating cross-referencing of agreed terms and conditions (e.g., delivery terms and expense incidence).
  • Special instructions section, encompassing extra service requests, terms, conditions, and reminders for carriers.
  • Description of the goods, providing details on units, dimensions, weight, and content specifics.
  • Packaging details, disclosing information about cartons, crates, pallets, drums, or other shipping containers used.
  • Freight classification, determining the shipment's cost.
  • Indication of hazardous shipment, if applicable.
  • Signatures and initials of the relevant officers involved in the shipping process.


Understanding the different types of Bills of Lading and their content is crucial for seamless international trade and shipping operations. Also, covering the voyage with marine insurance against unforeseen incidents is crucial.

Written By: PolicyBazaar - Updated: 20 March 2024

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Policybazaar for Business - Marine Insurance - Customer Reviews
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3.8 April 20, 2023
Great Experience
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