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Complete Guide to Accurate Bill of Lading for Shipping

As a customer on uShip, you’re not responsible for filling out the bill of lading (BOL) entirely, it’s crucial to understand what a proper BOL looks like. This essential document is the receipt, contract, and title for your freight shipment with your contracted carrier. Being familiar with the BOL ensures you’re protected in case of disputes or damage.

Taking the time to cross-check your BOL before pickup can prevent significant issues down the line, such as disputes over damages, quantities, costs, or delivery timelines. An incomplete or incorrect BOL means you and your carrier need a solid, binding agreement stipulating important cargo transport details and terms.


business shippers going over bill of lading

An adequately prepared bill of lading is essential for moving goods through the transportation supply chain. It memorializes vital information, provides a paper trail for all parties, and gives legal protections related to responsibility and liability for the cargo during transit. Having accurate BOL details on shipments is crucial for shippers, carriers, consignees, banks, insurers, and customs authorities. Requiring and verifying this documentation is vital for avoiding problems and facilitating trade. It serves several essential purposes:

Legal Proof of Contract

The BOL sets forth the legal terms for transportation services between the shipper and carrier. Details like shipment origins/destinations, cargo details, rates, and liability are documented. 

Proof of Ownership

The properly endorsed original BOL establishes the title for receiving the goods. This allows the holder to take delivery or claim the cargo. 

Facilitate Trade in Transit

A BOL can be negotiated while the shipment is still moving. This allows trade transactions like selling goods to buyers at intermediate ports.

Cargo Tracking & Delivery

BOL details like container numbers, vessels, and routing allow logistics providers to trace the shipment. It also gives delivery instructions. 

Verify Quantity & Condition

The BOL indicates the quantity and condition of the cargo at the origin. The receiver can use these details to confirm they received all items listed and note any damage.


uShip offers an electronic bill of lading (eBOL) that simplifies the BOL process, making it transparent and efficient. uShip’s Electronic Bill of Lading (eBOL) gives shipping customers a touchless and secure way to track and complete freight and other large shipments. With eBOL, shippers can gain peace of mind when shipping large items and communicate with carriers without ever opening the door if they choose.

uShip eBOL helps make your shipping experience:

  • Faster and more efficient
  • Safer as a touchless experience
  • Better documented for future accountability


The BOL is filled with dates, signatures, inventory lists, and codes that seem like another language. Hidden behind the jargon are three crucial parties that keep global shipping flowing. Understanding their duties is vital to BOL literacy.


The carrier transports the cargo from origin to destination. Primary BOL obligations are:

  • Verifying and signing for receipt of goods as described by shipper
  • Issuing BOL detailing cargo, vessel/voyage, rates, and terms
  • Assuming custody and control, including loading/unloading
  • Transporting items safely and securely within agreed timescales
  • Only delivered to the rightful consignee upon BOL surrender


The shipper is the party initiating transport by handing goods to a carrier. Their key responsibilities include:

  • Properly packing, marking, and labeling cargo for transit
  • Providing accurate shipment details about contents, weights, and sizes
  • Arranging and paying for freight transportation services
  • Securing cargo insurance or added protection
  • Ensuring the BOL contains correct particulars


 The consignee is the party receiving the shipped goods. Their core BOL duties include:

  • Confirming pre-arrival details like quantities, packaging, and condition
  • Arranging customs clearance and final delivery logistics
  • Inspecting shipments on arrival and noting any discrepancies
  • Paying any outstanding destination charges to obtain a release
  • Presenting the endorsed original BOL to claim cargo

While other agents like freight forwarders often get involved, these three contracting stakeholders anchor every standard bill of lading process. Understanding their documented interplay is critical to leveraging BOL protection.


While naming the shipping parties provides the backbone of the bill of lading, clearly specifying the physical items being transported forms the bulk of this vital transport record.

Some critical cargo particulars that must be accurate on a BOL include:

  • Piece count, weights, and dimensions
  • Package types, marks, and labels
  • Proper shipping name and cargo description
  • Relevant codes (e.g., H.S., commodities codes)
  • Special handling instructions
  • Stowed location if containerized

Taking great care to thoroughly and precisely enumerate what is inside, how it is packed, labeled, classified, and where it is loaded is crucial for many reasons. Correct cargo details help:

  • Carriers determine proper shipping rates and services
  • Terminals apply right handling equipment and storage
  • Customs efficiently clear inbound shipments
  • Consignees verify quantities delivered versus shipped
  • Insurers appropriately evaluate policy rates and coverage


As already stressed above, the BOL is the backbone of international shipping. However, when completing these cargo documents, many companies still need to pay attention to small yet severe mistakes that can grind shipments to a halt. In today’s fast-paced global trade environment, a single error in your BOL can cost thousands in shipping delays, insurance claims, or regulatory fines.

By understanding the most frequent slip-ups that importers and exporters make, you can dodge potential disasters through careful double-checking before goods set sail. Here are the top bill of lading mistakes to avoid:


Failing to precisely detail the type, quantity, weight, and packaging of goods shipped is one of the most common BOL oversights. Simply ball parking figures instead of methodically counting, weighing, and measuring each item leads to delivery disputes and customs clearance issues down the line if the amounts don’t match. For example, one Australian meat exporter erroneously noted “100 boxes of beef” on their bill of lading when only 96 boxes were loaded into the container. This discrepancy held the shipment in port for five days, resulting in hefty refrigeration and storage fees.

Pro Tip: Physically verify cargo details against packing lists; don’t estimate. Build in 5%–10% overage allowance for weight fluctuations.


Minor typos in your overseas customer’s name, office address, or contact details cause major headaches once shipments arrive at foreign ports. Seemingly small spelling errors can lead authorities to classify recipients as “unknown,” resulting in costly shipment delays or misdelivery. Double and triple-checking consignee precision on bills of lading is vital to ensure cargo routing remains on track.

Pro Tip: Have consignees sign off on address spellings—track BOLs against commercial invoices and sales contracts.


While perfectly spelling consignee credentials seems trivial, failing to classify dangerous goods per international regulations has immense consequences. Overlooking proper chemical labeling and hazard placards or omitting lithium battery classifications on forms leads to immediate shipment rejection and stiff penalties. For instance, one Australian exporter paid thousands of dollars in fines for noncompliance after initially failing to declare sulphuric acid as per United Nations (UN) proper shipping names on their bill of lading.

Pro Tip: Screen all cargo against the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG) regulatory checklists. When in doubt, over-disclose hazards.


While getting consignee details and cargo weights perfect seems the most challenging part, a simple missing signature can also torpedo the BOL validity. Failing to collect the official signatures of either the shipper or carrier on the BOL form often slips through the cracks yet carries significant consequences.

Under maritime law, an unsigned bill of lading is not considered a binding transport contract from a commercial or insurance perspective. This loophole allows carriers to claim no liability for damaged goods and provides no proof of delivery if quantities go missing.

Similarly, importer endorsements need to be added to prevent customs officials from releasing shipments, leading to escalating costly storage fees. Taking 30 seconds to secure a valid name, date, and signature from all logistics parties before sealing the container doors can save you days of delays, plus proof to recoup damages later.

Pro Tip: Make multiple signature copy templates mandatory for all BOL issuances. Digitally authenticate signatures where possible.


The BOL contains dates, codes, signatures, and inventory lists that read like another language. But this shipping document is far more than just paperwork. It serves crucial legal and operational functions for all cargo chain stakeholders. So, what are the must-have details?


Federal regulations mandate particular BOL specifics necessary for legal commerce and safety oversight. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) outlines these basics:

  • Shipper name and address
  • Receiver name and address
  • Transported freight must have recognizable origins and destinations, ensuring accountable handling.
  • Cargo quantity and description
  • Authorities must understand what moves through their infrastructure, while carriers require details to apply proper security and safety measures.
  • Cargo weight and dimensions: Weights and volumes factor into transportation toll calculations, route planning, and vehicle load limits for safe passage.
  • Date of shipment: Tracking movement timelines provide oversight of road safety regulations like driver hours of service.

These BOL data points enable regulatory supervision, commerce transparency, and infrastructure accountability, which are vital to public systems.


Beyond regulated inclusions, additional information further facilitates smooth shipping:

  • Payment terms and freight fees clarify the financial split of duties between the shipper and receiver.
  • Special instructions cover unique cargo needs like refrigeration, out-of-gauge items, or stacking limits supporting safe handling.
  • Exact addresses with zip or postal codes, contact names, and phone numbers prevent missed pickups or deliveries.
  • Driver, vehicle, and container IDs link to transport documents, enabling better load tracking and chain of custody.
  • Shipper and carrier signature/date provide legal receipt of goods for delivery proof.

The BOL is part packing slip, part work order, part inventory manifest, and part financial invoice, enabling seamless cargo flows domestically and overseas. Understanding the must-have and handy recommended details reduces downstream problems.

business shipper confirming bill of lading


A properly formulated BOL outlines the commercial and logistical obligations each party undertakes to transfer merchandise safely. Leveraging user-friendly digital platforms like uShip’s eBOL can make achieving BOL precision easier through automated document creation tools, cargo tracking visibility, and expert guidance.

By partnering with solutions that reinforce compliance best practices, shippers can have peace of mind that their BOLs check the boxes needed for smooth customs clearances, reliable delivery, and swift payment. BOLs operationalize global commerce through a collective commitment to accuracy, transparency, and accountability by all supply chain stakeholders, empowering the timely, trusted flow of goods, and fueling international trade’s enduring success.


What is a bill of lading, and why is it important?

A bill of lading (BOL) is a crucial document detailing cargo shipments and the contract terms between a shipper and carrier; it facilitates trade by providing legal and operational proof for transport.

How do I fill out a BOL correctly?

Accurately fill out a BOL by clearly detailing the goods’ weight/unit counts, packaging types, shipper/receiver addresses, carrier signatures, and dates to avoid disputes.

What are the different types of BOLs?

Major BOL types include:

  • Straight bills (non-negotiable to the named receiver)
  • Order bills (transferable title)
  • Seaway bills (non-negotiable)
  • Air waybills for air freight

What are the most common mistakes when filling out a BOL?

Common BOL mistakes include inaccurate cargo descriptions, incorrect package counts/weights, missing special instructions, lack of hazardous goods classification, and missing signatures.

How can digital tools simplify BOL management?

Digital BOL solutions, such as online document creators, automated validation checks, barcode/QR code tracking, and inventory integration, improve shipping accuracy and efficiency.

What are the legal implications of a BOL?

Legally, a BOL outlines liability, serves as a receipt of goods, and represents title for the shipped cargo with noncompliance carrying severe penalties.

How does uShip assist with BOL management?

uShip helps BOL management via shipment tracking visibility, document generation software, text alerts on delays, and guidance resources on proper practices.