What is a Bill of Lading?

A Bill of Lading can be categorized in many different ways, but in general an original B/L refers to a document issued by the carrier or shipping company that:

  • Confirms receipt of goods onto a vessel
  • Confirms the condition of those goods, weight and number of pieces
  • Provides title to goods (“negotiable”)
  • Serves as a proof of contract for carriage

Bills of Lading are ocean transportation documents. They can also be issued by the Captain of a vessel.

What is a Sea Waybill?

In simple terms, a Seaway Bill is a B/L that does not confer title to the goods. A Seaway Bill can also be referred to as a Straight Bill of Lading or an Express Bill of Lading.

A Bill of Lading and a Sea Waybill would have the following information:

  1. Carrier’s name
  2. Carrier’s address
  3. Shipper’s name
  4. Shipper’s address
  5. Consignee name
  6. Consignee address
  7. Vessel name
  8. Port of loading
  9. Port of unloading
  10. Notify party name
  11. Notify party address
  12. Nature of goods
  13. Condition of goods
  14. Identification marks on cargo
  15. Number of pieces or packages
  16. Quantity and/or weight
  17. Incoterms of the contract
  18. Place of payment : Pre-Paid or Collect
  19. Number of original copies

Should I use a Sea Waybill or Bill of Lading?

A Sea Waybill, instead of a B/L can be used when the shipper is comfortable with releasing ownership of the cargo early (immediately). The carrier only has to ship and release the cargo to the entity identified in the Sea waybill regardless of whether that entity possesses the original Bill of Lading or not. Effectively, the Sea Waybill serves as just a reference transportation document.

  • This makes it practical to use a Sea Waybill when the consignor and consignee trust each other
  • When there is no expectation of a high sea sale
  • When payment is not being made using letter of credit instruments

In many scenarios, the use of a Sea Waybill means that the consignee can take ownership of the cargo faster than when using a Bill of Lading since there is no longer a need to courier the original Bill of Lading to the destination.


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