What Is a Bill Of Lading (BOL)?

7 min read

Learn about:

  • What's included in a BOL?

  • How to fill out a BOL

  • Common BOL errors


A Bill of Lading (or BOL) is a signed, legal, and binding contract used in freight shipping. It is the legal documentation of a shipment's transit life. Typically, the carrier (the party moving the shipment) issues the BOL to the shipper (the party sending the shipment).

A BOL states what items are being shipped and details the items' size, weight, and freight classification. A BOL also names the freight carrier who will be handling the freight, the shipper of the items, the consignee for the items, the services to be performed in either the picking up or delivering of the items, the name of the paying party, and just about every single detail regarding the shipment.

Having a BOL for each shipment is a requirement, but ensuring every detail is 100% accurate separates a flawlessly moving shipment from one that encounters numerous problems.

Before ever reading a BOL, it's important to understand the terms used for each party involved:

Shipper - The person or company sending the shipment.

Consignee - The person or company receiving the shipment.

Carrier - The transportation company responsible for moving the shipment from the shipper to the consignee.

What's Included in a Bill of Lading?

The Shipper and the Consignee 

Every BOL must state the shipper and consignee and include the correct address for pickup and delivery. It's also best practice to include a working telephone number and the contact person's name at each site. Lastly, the shipping and receiving hours for both locations must be listed.

The Freight

A BOL typically includes several pieces of information regarding the products in a freight shipment:

  1. The number of pallets and the number of items contained within those pallets

  2. The total weight of the shipment

  3. The length, width, and height of the shipment

  4. The density, freight class, and National Motor Freight Classification code for those particular items (specific to LTL mode)

  5. Any special handling instructions for those particular items (e.g., hazardous materials, protection from freezing, fragile items, etc.)

The Carrier

The BOL must state the name of the freight carrier handling the shipment. It is important, especially in busier shipping locations, that the carrier's name is listed on the BOL to ensure that the freight is given to the appropriate carrier. Also, the BOL must often include the carrier's quotation number in the Special Instructions to ensure the appropriate price is attributed during billing.

The BOL must also state the name of the third party/paying party if one exists. This ensures properly contracted tariffs are applied when billing and invoicing a shipment.

Special Services and Accessorials 

On the BOL, there is a section to list any special services or instructions that might be required, such as any hazardous material information or handling instructions (e.g., Fragile, Handle With Care, Protect From Freezing). In addition, any required accessorial services must be listed, such as a lift gate at pick up or a residential delivery. List anything that needs to be done to the shipment on arrival ahead of time on the BOL when getting the shipping quote from the carrier. Otherwise, those services might not be provided, or your charges may drastically differ from what you expected when you received your invoice.

How to Fill Out a Bill of Lading: Step by Step

Step 1: Get Familiar with the BOL

Start by obtaining a BOL from your carrier or freight broker. Next, read it thoroughly. Precision is key when filling out a BOL, so ensuring you have a firm grasp of all the document's fields will set you up for success.

Here is an example of what a Bill of Lading looks like: A Bill of Lading PDF document featuring fields for shipper and consignee information, cargo/product details, carrier information, special instructions, and signature lines.

Source: https://templatelab.com/bill-of-lading/#google_vignette

Step 2: Fill Out the Shipper and Consignee Information

Begin by entering the shipper's information, including the address where the shipment is being picked up from, a current phone number, and the contact name of the person responsible for the shipment. Next, provide the consignee's information, which consists of the name, address, and working phone number of the person or company receiving the shipment. Ensure that the shipper and consignee details are legible and match any other shipment documentation to prevent complications during transit.

Step 3: Fill Out the Cargo/Product Information

In this section, fill out the information for the products being shipped. You will need to provide an accurate name/description of each product. For example, if you are shipping televisions, you might list "42-inch LED TV" along with the quantity, weight, dimensions, and any relevant product codes or identifiers.

It's crucial to ensure that the product information you provide perfectly matches the products themselves. Any discrepancies can lead to issues during transit, such as delays and additional charges.

Some common discrepancies to look out for:

  • Using inconsistent units of measurement¬†

  • Incorrect quantity, weight, or dimensions

  • Product descriptions that don't accurately reflect the product

Step 4: Fill Out Carrier/Third Party Information

Next, enter the details about the carrier responsible for the shipment. This information typically includes the carrier's name and any other fields listed on the BOL, like the carrier's contact information and any tracking numbers or reference codes provided by the carrier.

Also, make sure to include the name of the third party/paying party if one exists. As mentioned previously, this step is important to ensure that properly contracted tariffs are applied when billing and invoicing a shipment.

Step 5: Include Special Instructions if Necessary

If there are any special instructions for handling or delivering the shipment, include them in the designated section. This might involve handling instructions, any required accessorial services, or additional notices about hazardous material. 

Step 6: Check Your Work

It's always best practice to double-check your work. Carefully review all the information you've entered to ensure accuracy and completeness. Taking the time to review the BOL thoroughly can help prevent delays, miscommunication, and potential disputes.

Step 7: Sign and Date

Lastly, sign and date the BOL to confirm the accuracy of the details. Both the shipper and the carrier usually need to sign the document. The shipper's signature confirms the shipment details, while the carrier's signature acknowledges receipt of the shipment.

Common Bill of Lading Errors

When filling out a Bill of Lading, it's important to avoid common errors that can lead to delays or issues with the shipment. Some common errors include:

Not Checking the Master BOL Box: A Master BOL is used when shipping multiple shipments under a single Bill of Lading. This is commonly used in consolidated shipments where multiple POs or smaller shipments are combined into one larger shipment. If this applies to your shipment, make sure to check the box. In doing so, you can avoid a common error that leads to confusion and delays in the shipping process.

Not Listing the Weight of Each PO being Shipped: Another misstep that often happens on BOLs is not including the Purchase Order (PO) numbers with the weights of each for all the POs on the load. To avoid this error, follow these steps:

  1. Identify Each PO: Clearly identify each PO number being shipped. This can be listed in the cargo/product information section.

  2. Record Individual Weights: For each PO, record the weight in the designated section. 

  3. Total Weight: Calculate the total weight of all POs combined and ensure this total matches the sum of the individual weights listed. 

Protect Your Profits with SupplyPike

When fines and charges from your retailers start to pile up, your profits can take a big hit. SupplyPike's solution helps suppliers dispute deductions, improve compliance, and dig into the root cause of their revenue loss.

Schedule a meeting with a team member to see how SupplyPike can help you recover lost revenue and safeguard your bottom line.

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Written by The SupplyPike Team

About The SupplyPike Team

SupplyPike builds software to help retail suppliers fight deductions, meet compliance standards, and dig down to root cause issues in their supply chain.

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The SupplyPike Team

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