Bill of Lading: Everything You Need to Know

A bill of lading (BOL) is a document which carriers use for shipping freight and whilst it is an essential document for this purpose, many shippers have questions regarding why it must be used for every consignment. Hopefully the following information will answer those questions allowing shippers to be more understanding of its need and hopefully therefore for prepared in meeting a carrier’s requirements.

Basically a BOL is a legally binding document and therefore legitimizes both the carriers’ role in the process of shipping whilst also recognizing the owner of the freight being shipped. The document therefore needs to have a comprehensive list of the consignment being shipped, the carrier’s details and also the full details of the person shipping the freight. As a legal document a BOL can be admissible in court and so can constitute a legal agreement between the shipper and the carrier and as such must be signed by authorized representatives of the shipper and carrier, plus the consignee on delivery.

Although many shippers may have their own documentation which they like completed, those documents do not necessarily have legal status in a court of law and so whilst they can still be completed in order to facilitate a shipper’s personal files it is only an official BOL which carriers will accept as a definite and binding contract.

The BOL is therefore the legal document recognized by all international authorities and can therefore, if necessary, be used as the only consignment documentation. However most shippers prefer to attach to a BOL their own documentation such as an invoice for the consignee but this plays no role in the shipping of the freight or the carrier as it a document concerning the shipper and recipient only.

As the legal document accompanying and freight, it is a BOL which customs and other authorities will ask to see on international shipments or perhaps police in any country. Most carriers will of course cater to the needs of shippers in completing or signing other paperwork but this is not an internationally required procedure as the BOL supersedes and legitimizes any other documentation a shipper may present.

The fact that a carrier must have a BOL does not necessarily mean they have to provide as a shipper may prefer to create and use their own. This is acceptable to all carriers as long as it contains the minimal details to make it legal. This means that most consignments have BOLS provided by either the shipper or a 3PL working on the shipper’s behalf. As a BOL can be created by a shipper, it can contain far more information than the carrier needs but in doing so may make life easier for the shipper as far as management of consignments and maintaining record files is concerned.

Essentially then, any number of documents may accompany any shipment but the only essential one as far as the carrier, customs and other authorities are concerned, is the one which constitutes a legal BOL.

One way to gain clarity into the management of BOLs is through the ODYN Fleet Platform where we digitize, centralize, and analyze any important paperwork in your supply chain. Contact us to learn more about ODYN can help streamline your operations today!

Chassis Shortages at LA-Long Beach


Los Angeles, Long Beach is the largest US port complex with 12 container terminals and whilst operating efficiently in the past, it has more recently been experiencing difficulties. The difficulties are due to a shortage of chassis with which to move loaded containers from one terminal to another and the return of empty containers back to their relevant terminals. More specifically the shortage is in chassis being available for the moving of empty containers as the drayage company responsible for doing that has least priority in chassis allotment.

Although the returning of empty containers may seem like a trivial problem, it does have a significant effect on the efficiency and productivity of the port as a whole as it can cause delays in full containers reaching their respective terminals. This problem had now also become a problem for the Harbor Trucking Association as their members now complain of a significant drop in dual loads. A dual load is when a driver will transport a full container in one direction and then return with an empty container, maximizing efficiency and of course providing the drivers with extra pay. Because of the shortage in chassis and the resultant congestion in the terminals, dual loads have dropped from 80% of driver’s jobs 5 years ago, to 20% today.

There are of course several users of the chassis within the port’s supply chain including BCOs (beneficial cargo owners), carriers and IEPs (intermodal equipment providers) all of whom take priority over the drayage companies responsible for the return of empty containers. Although all parties agree there is a problem and the problem continues to get worse, ideas on how to resolve it are few and far between. It would appear that the problem started when carrier alliances changed without full consideration of the possible problems it could cause.

As would be expected, the problem is most significant and therefore most detrimental, at peak times in cargo receipts and movements. At these times some shipping companies, due to the quantity of full containers they have to ship, refuse to take their allotted numbers of empty containers which of course leaves those unwanted empty containers in the wrong terminal or at least in the wrong place within a terminal. This then results in there not being enough vacant space for full containers and that affects the efficiency of the whole port operations.

It would now appear that the shortage experienced at the port is not due to a shortage in chassis in the Southern California region, which has a total of 65,000 chassis dispersed throughout the region at ports, rail terminals and distribution warehouses but more in the coordination of chassis dispersal. Although daily monitoring of the chassis is done, it has been suggested that a more active monitoring should be undertaken as estimates suggest that as many as 6,000 chassis are used to hold containers which have been stationary for 60 days or more. It is hoped that by better monitoring, allowing these inactive chassis to be brought back into full use, the port’s shortfall will be met at critical times.