What is a Bill of Lading?

A Bill of Lading, often referred to as a BOL, is one of the most crucial documents in the transportation process. You may be wondering, “Why is this document so important? What information does it include? What does a BOL look like?” …well, you’ve come to the right place!


So, what is a Bill of Lading?

A BOL acts as a contract of carriage between the shipper (party that wants to ship the goods) and the carrier (party that will physically transport the goods). A BOL is in the form of a paper document acknowledging the receipt of goods for transport. A BOL describes the nature of the cargo, the amount of cargo by weight, the size and/or number of pieces, the party to be paid for the transportation services, and the origin and destination of the cargo. Essentially, the BOL answers the who, what, where, when, and why of the shipment


What does a Proof of Delivery (POD) have to do with a BOL?

The term Proof of Delivery or POD refers to the method of providing evidence that a shipment did in fact deliver to its destination. Most customers will require this document to be sent alongside the service invoice or sometimes before the invoice is sent. It is extremely common for customers to request a clean and signed Bill of Lading as the Proof of Delivery. A clean BOL declares that there are no losses or damages to the goods of the shipment. Losses or damages that do occur must be noted on the BOL with the consignee's signature.


A POD can be a separate document or signed slip that is not the BOL, but the best practice is to make sure all parties agree on what will be used as the POD.


What does a BOL look like?

There are several different types of BOL's with the most common being the short form. Below is an example of real short form Straight BOL template used by Soshaul Logistics. Take a moment to review the variety of information fields.



Why is a BOL so important?

  • Acts as a receipt of goods

  • Acts as a title to the goods

  • It’s a legal contract and evidence of carriage

  • Provides a paper trail of evidence for freight loss/damage claims

Filling out the BOL - who does what?

Cool! Now that you understand what a BOL is used for, what it looks like, and why it is so important - you may be wondering, “who is responsible for preparing a BOL?” The answer to this question really depends on each shipper or customer. In most cases, the shipper will take the time to prepare the BOL with the proper pickup and delivery locations, commodity details (quantity, weight, type, description, etc.), ship date, contact information, purchase order (PO) reference number, and BOL reference number. Occasionally, the shipper or customer may request that the third-party logistics provider prepare this form instead. In the case of the third-party logistics provider preparing the BOL, it will be created and then sent to the customer, shipper, or carrier (per the customer’s request) to be printed and signed by the shipper and carrier once the shipment is loaded. Drivers may also carry blank BOL templates with them for situations where a BOL was not created by the shipper, customer, or third-party logistics provider.


An important note to make is that it is crucial for the BOL to be signed by the shipper and carrier before the carrier departs the shipping location. The shipper holds some responsibility to make sure their signature is on the BOL before departure, but ultimately the driver must verify the BOL has been signed by the shipper before they hit the road. The same goes for delivery at the consignee (receiver). The driver cannot depart the consignee location without receiving a signature on the BOL from the consignee. The driver/carrier is responsible for communicating the signed BOL (POD) to either the customer (if they were hired by the customer directly) or the third-party logistics provider (if they were hired by the 3PL).


Check out our FREE BOL template

To receive a FREE Bill of Lading template, please enter your first name and email address below.

Our template contains standard BOL information fields and boiler-plate legal language. This is a partial template meant to be modified and is NOT legal advice.


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This information is not tax, business, nor legal advice. Please consult with a specialist for more detailed information.