How to Complete a Bill of Lading (BOL)


The bill of lading (BOL) is a legal document that shippers and carriers alike must understand how to accurately complete for a successful shipment. The document serves as a receipt of goods, evidence of the contract between carrier and shipper, and the document to the title of goods. If you’re unfamiliar with what a BOL is, you can check out our other blog to learn what a BOL is and how the form functions. Here we will cover the best ways to ensure your BOL is complete and accurate.

Who prepares the BOL?

The carrier will issue a bill of lading to the shipper of goods. You should then provide the document to the carrier at pick-up or arrival. The carrier will pass the BOL to the receiver or consignee at delivery. It gives the driver and carrier all the necessary information to process the freight shipment and invoice it accurately. Occasionally, the freight forwarder can issue a bill of lading. However, not all forwarders are authorized to issue a bill of lading. The shipper, a broker, or a freight forwarder usually receives the BOL.

What is on the BOL?

There are many fillable fields on the BOL. Learn more about the form’s fields by visiting here. When a customer books a shipment with PLS PRO, our web-based transportation management system (TMS), the system automatically generates the BOL based on the shipment details entered during the quoting and booking process. It is available online immediately, so you can easily download and share it.

Consequences of an Inaccurate BOL

  • The product does not make it to the destination
  • Freight claims
  • Shipper loses the right to limit liability
  • Losing P&I cover
  • Loss of the right to indemnity from the charterer

How to Generate a Consistent and Accurate BOL

Ensure all shipment details are precise

Make sure to complete every single section of the bill of lading. Confirm that all the dimensions, numbers, and weights are precise and accurate. It is never acceptable to estimate these numbers, so this step is vital to a successful shipment. It would be best to be specific when documenting the number of containers. Sometimes, you will need to write the number of goods in each container, clarify items versus pallets, etc.

Provide the correct freight class code according to NMFC rules and mark whether your bill is prepaid, collected/credited, or a third-party bill. It will ensure the invoice is going to the right place and prevent delayed payments. If you deal with hazardous materials, be sure to take responsibility for shipping the product safely. Research your materials to confirm any hazardous materials involved, review respective HAZMAT transportation regulations, and label the BOL accordingly.

Additionally, document all the details that you and the carrier require. Describe your cargo thoroughly with as much detail as possible. For instance, “details” or “parts” do not give a complete description of what you are shipping. Use “steel details for drilling equipment” or “auto parts” instead of uncertain examples. Make sure you provide the information required by the carrier. Ask the carrier what information they need and plan so that you can avoid expensive errors.

Provide accurate shipper and carrier information

If you do not specify who the carrier and party are, the general contractor will choose the carrier instead of you. In addition, list accurate addresses for the respective parties to ensure invoices are issued to the correct location to prevent delayed payments.

Include the service contract number in the paperwork. BOLs are evidence of carriage, so it can cost you money if terms differ. Also, make sure your contact information is correct if questions arise during transport. The key to a successful shipment is effective communication between the carrier and shippers, so make sure your BOL reflects accurate contact information.

Use the same bill of lading form

If you are not shipping freight for the first time, the best way to avoid mistakes when completing BOL is to use the same form. This way, you can see what information you need to include. Additionally, this will save you time collecting and organizing data. And re-use of the sample will help you prevent errors while filling out the document.

Refer to a TMS to decrease the chance of error

Today, most leading technology platforms or transportation management systems allow you to complete an electronic bill of lading. This system not only requires less time to complete the form, but t also increases accuracy. In addition, shippers, carriers, and 3PLs are all notified automatically if any required data fields are missing or incomplete. Technology makes filling out the BOL easy, convenient, and quick. As a result, there is less risk of creating an incorrect BOL when using a TMS, leaving you free of extra charges and headaches.

Eliminate risks by saving data online and prepopulating the fields

A good hack is to have a draft with pre-saved information if you ship regularly. Just like using a previous BOL, it will save you time and prevent losing essential data on your way to arranging a shipment.

Double-check information before submitting the BOL

You should thoroughly check the information before signing the BOL. Ensure all the data is correct; otherwise, you risk paying additional charges and face shipment delays. Read through the document twice and ensure you understand the terms that are your responsibility. With these steps and precautions completed, you are ready to ship freight successfully!

‍What are the regulations on BOLs?

In the fall of 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued rules over freight brokers’ operations and how they fill out the bill of lading. Under these guidelines, FMCSA requires brokers to post a $75,000 surety bond that guarantees payment to motor carriers if the broker fails to make payment.

The rule also eliminates “double-brokering.” Double-brokering is when a driver takes ownership of freight from another driver or broker. Truckers cannot broker freight without a brokerage license, and the freight brokerage must be a separate entity from the carrier.

When a driver arrives to pick up freight, the freight broker must ensure that the driver is with the same trucking company as arranged on the BOL. A broker can never appear on the BOL as the carrier. If there is a discrepancy, the shipper or broker must create a new BOL and identify the driver and carrier.

The FMCSA’s rules detail acceptable and unacceptable actions in the relationship between carriers and brokers. The rules provide shippers peace of mind that the carrier on the bill of lading will be the same one that hauls their freight.

Guarantee Accuracy by Partnering With a 3PL

The best way to ensure your documentation will be accurate on every shipment is to partner with a 3PL that can simplify your logistics operations and assist you with all your documentation. By partnering with PLS Logistics Services, you will gain access to our robust, in-house TMS and get a single point of contact for all your business shipments to further simplify your transportation strategy.

Get a free freight quote today or contact us to learn more about how we can serve you.

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