Bill of Lading (BL)


Common abbreviations: BL, BoL (note OBL refers to a specific type of release, the original bill of lading)

Sometimes mistakenly referred to as: “bill of landing,” or “bill of laden.”

This is the contract between you and the carrier that defines who can collect the cargo, who is responsible, and who the carrier is.  This is the central document used in transporting cargo.  There are three different categories of BLs: Master BL, House BL, and Inland Freight BL.

The Master and House BLs are the most common.  They, specifically the Master, may be released in four different ways.

  1. Original (at origin).  In this case, the carrier releases the bill of lading, which then acts like a bank check.  In order to collect your cargo, the consignee or notify party must sign the back and present the original, signed document to the carrier’s destination office.  It is customary for the carrier to issue three identical original bills of lading.
  2. Original (at destination).  Just like the above, except the carrier sends a message to their destination office to print the originals locally.  The consignee or notify party go to the carrier’s destination office, present their ID, collect the BLs, sign and return them.
  3. Telex.  This method is used less now than in the past.  The carrier prints the BL in their origin office and sends a message to their destination office that the consignee or notify can collect their cargo without physically holding or signing the BL.  They only need to present their ID.
  4. Express Release.  Functionally, this doesn’t appear different than a Telex.  The only difference is that no originals are ever printed.  It is electronic from start to finish.