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What is a Bill of Lading?

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A bill of lading, also known as a BOL or BL, is a legal form that is required when shipping freight. It is a mutually agreed upon document between the shipper and carrier that outlines important shipment details. These details include the quantity of goods being shipped, classification of the products, and destination of the shipment. Bill of lading forms are used for all modes of transportation and serve three main purposes.

what is a bill of lading
signing a bill of lading
a truck on the road

The main purposes of a bill of lading are:

  • To serve as a title document. This works to establish ownership of the goods being shipped throughout the transportation process. Typically, the ownership of goods transfers from the seller to the buyer as soon as freight is loaded and leaves its origin. 
  • To serve as a receipt. Once a freight shipment is complete, the consignee (receiver) of the goods signs the bill of lading. When this happens, the document now serves as a receipt of a completed shipment. This is important for all 3 parties (shipper, carrier, receiver) involved. 
  • To act as a contract between the shipper and carrier. The details included in a BOL serve as the terms and conditions of the shipment. Before a shipment is transported, both the shipper and carrier agree to the terms by signing the BOL. 

For the above reasons, it’s essential that a bill of lading is included with freight shipments and that it’s completely accurate. 

When is a Bill of Lading Required?

According to Title 49 U.S. Code 14706, a Bill of Lading or receipt is required when a carrier provides freight transportation services. This is true for all modes of transportation, not just goods shipped by truck. As noted above, the BOL contains critical information related to the shipment for all parties involved. 

Without a BOL, the liability in case of damage or loss is not established. Ownership of the goods being shipped is also unclear when a BOL isn’t available to note when the property changes hands. While the code does indicate that a receipt can also be used, a bill of lading is strongly preferred. This is due to more information being provided on a bill of lading when compared to a simple receipt. 

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Who Issues a Bill of Lading?

Freight carriers are responsible for issuing a bill of lading. This occurs after a shipper has provided the information that’s needed to prepare and issue a bill of lading. Once shippers have done this and agreed to allow the carrier to ship their goods, the BOL is issued by the carrier. 

For shippers working with a freight broker or freight forwarder, the process doesn’t change much. The information needed for the BOL is still provided by the shipper. In this case, it’s given to either the freight broker or forwarder who then arranges the shipment with a carrier. The broker or forwarder provides shippers with the BOL in these situations.

There are some carriers that provide shippers with a blank BOL form and have them fill in the information. Even in this situation, the completed form is still reviewed and issued by the carrier. 

Who issues a bil of lading

How to Fill Out a Bill of Lading

If you are tasked with filling out a bill of lading, there is information you’ll need to provide. The information required can vary from company to company, therefore the form can look different. However, there are a few details that are universally required to complete a bill of lading.

When filling out a bill of lading, you’ll need to provide:

  1. Complete address of both the shipper and receiver
  2. Scheduled pickup date
  3. Scheduled delivery date
  4. Description of goods being shipped. This includes quantity of goods, number and type of containers, description, weight, NMFC/freight class, temperature needed for goods requiring refrigeration (if needed).
  5. Special instructions (Inside delivery, liftgate service, white glove, etc.)
  6. Hazardous material classification if applicable
  7. Payment terms and instructions

If you’re having difficulty filling out a bill of lading, your carrier or freight broker should be willing and able to assist you.

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Sample Bill of Lading

Simply describing what a bill of lading is and what’s included in it is helpful. However, it’s even more useful to see an actual BOL with pre-filled sample information.

Below is a sample bill of lading with all of the necessary information included.

Types of Bill of Lading

The specific details of your shipping situation will determine the type of bill of lading that is used. While most shipments will use a straight bill of lading, it’s worthwhile to be aware of some of the other kinds you may come across.

Common types of bill of lading include:

  • Straight- The most common type of BOL. It is non-negotiable and is used in situations when payment for the shipment has already been accepted.
  • Draft- A draft BOL is simply an initial version of what will eventually become a bill of lading. Many companies don’t use draft BL’s.
  • Short Form- A type of BOL in which the shipping terms and conditions are not on the actual bill itself. Most BOL’s used today are actually short form as they don’t contain the full terms and conditions. Instead, they make reference to a document and/or website where the full details are available. The short form BL typically isn’t any smaller in size than a non-short form BOL. 
Sample Bill of Lading
  • Clean/Clean on Board- A clean bill of lading is used in ocean shipments and is actually a clause added to an ocean bill of lading. An ocean BOL is noted as “clean” when a carrier receives freight and remarks the freight is correct in quantity and packaging. Not all carriers will provide a clean BOL. Instead they’ll note a bill as SLAC (Shipper Load and Count) or STC (Said To Contain).
  • Through- This type is used for shipments that travel both domestically and internationally. A through BOL is often more detailed and takes longer to complete than other types as it will contain more information. The additional information comes from having to include more paperwork to satisfy customs requirements. Added information is also needed as the freight will often change carriers and modes of transportation throughout its journey. 
  • Multimodal- A multimodal BOL is similar to a through in that it will cover the process of a shipment through different modes of transportation. The only difference is the shipment doesn’t travel internationally. Domestic shipments that utilize multiple modes of transportation would use a multimodal BL. 
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What is the Pro Number on a Bill of Lading?

If you’re new to freight shipping and have this question, you’re not alone. Most carriers and brokers will explain this to shippers, but if not, we can help you. 

A PRO number is a tracking number placed onto a bill of lading that is then attached to individual unit containers of freight. This is most commonly used in LTL/LCL shipments in which freight from numerous shippers is grouped and shipped together. For example, a freight shipment that contains 20 pallets for 20 different shippers can have a unique PRO number placed on each pallet or other type of container. This allows each shipper to track their individual products through the transportation process. 

When a shipment departs, the PRO number is given to the necessary parties involved in the shipment. As the shipment is loaded and unloaded throughout the process, the barcode attached to the PRO number is scanned. This sends an update to the carrier or broker’s tracking system. Individuals with access to the number can then check the status and location of the shipment within the carrier’s provided system. 

What is the NMFC Number on a Bill of Lading?

Another number that you’ll find on a BOL that can lead to confusion is the NMFC number. NMFC stands for National Motor Freight Classification and is an established grading system that classifies freight based on it’s transportability. The system is maintained and managed by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). 

The NFMC number that a BOL refers to actually consists of a couple of different numbers. 

The two elements of an NMFC number on a bill of lading are:

  • A commodity identification number (and sub-identification number if applicable). 
  • A freight class number. There are 18 different freight classes that range from 50 to 500. The numbers on the lower end represent freight that’s easier to transport and generally cost less to ship. Freight that gets assigned a higher freight class number is usually considered more fragile and prone to damage and therefore costs more to ship.

Providing the correct NMFC number and freight class is important when utilizing LTL shipping. The rate for LTL shipments is partially determined by the NMFC number and freight class of the goods being shipped. Providing an incorrect number can lead to a reclassification and possible increased costs.

What is the NMFC number on a bill of lading

Full truckload rates are priced differently. Most carriers establish a base truckload price and adjust accordingly based on factors such as weight, additional services, mileage, and more. 

Shippers having trouble locating or correctly identifying their freight, should speak to the logistics company they’re working with.

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Need Truckload Shipping Services?

If you’re looking to ship truckload freight, R+L Global Logistics can help you. We’re an industry leader in truckload shipping services and fully stand by our service. Our fully vetted and qualified carrier network ensures that we’ll be able to move your freight quickly and at an affordable rate. So, whether you need refrigerated shipping, truckload shipping, or expedited shipping, we’ve got you covered. 

In addition to our freight shipping services, our full-service 3PL offerings make it possible to simplify your supply chain. We make it possible to manage all of your transportation and logistics needs in one place.

Our 3PL services include:

  • Warehousing
  • Pick and pack fulfillment
  • Kitting and assembly
  • Customs brokerage
  • Reverse Logistics
  • And more…

When you’re ready to receive a freight shipping quote, contact one of our transportation and logistics specialists at (866)353-7178. We’re ready to get your freight moving quickly and safely. 

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