Understanding Your BOL

We sure like to use acronyms in the shipping business, don't we? As just a small example, your SMB definitely needs to use a 3PL that offers a powerful TMS. This alphabet soup is enough to make your head spin sometimes.

Amid all the acronyms in the shipping world, there's one that you definitely need to know: BOL. A BOL, or bill of lading, is easily one of the most important – if not the most important – elements involved with your freight shipping. Fill it out correctly, and your shipment will likely be smooth, predictable, on-time and within budget. Make a mistake on it, however, and you can expect a ripple effect of bad consequences.

But what is a BOL, exactly? And how do you make sure you're completing it correctly? Why is it so important to have impeccable accuracy when it comes to this particular document? Let's take a dive into the world of BOLs and have you emerge on the other side as a BOL boss!

What is a BOL?

The short answer is that a BOL is a receipt for freight services that acts as a contract between the carrier and shipper. BOLs are legally required documents that protect the shipper and carrier alike and can be used in litigation if issues arise. There is usually one BOL per freight service, except in special circumstances, such as blind shipping or intermodal shipping.

Now that you know what a BOL is, let's look at what specifically goes into one.

A typical freight BOL will contain the following information:

  • The names and addresses of the shipper and consignee
  • The date the freight is being picked up
  • Purchase orders or reference numbers related to the shipment
  • Any special instructions or requests made by the shipper
  • A description of the items being shipped, including quantity, dimensions, and any other relevant information
  • The packaging the shipping is being placed in
  • The freight class of the shipment, as determined by the NMFC
  • A hazmat BOL will require special designation, if applicable

If you’re shipping blindly, see additional ways a 3PL can help you make your complex shipping go smoothly.

What's an NMFC class?

In this most important of shipping documents, the freight class is one of the most important things you include. This class is one of 18 possible options based on weight, dimensions, freight density, storage capability, handling ease, value and liability. The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) created the classification system (NMFC) to standardize pricing and establish fair measures. To help you determine the class of your shipment, you can use an online freight class calculator, contact the carrier directly, or for detailed help, ask the pros at a third-party logistics company like Worldwide Express.

Why is it so important to enter the right class (and all other information) into the BOL?

Demystify freight classifications and use our easy Speedship® shipping tool to calculate your shipment's class.

Entering the wrong class into your BOL can often result in a reweigh and/or reclass of your shipment. This means that your shipment is pulled out of transit, which will delay its delivery. Additional fees are usually assessed for a reclass on top of the time delay.

Learn more about how to avoid rejected freight.

Besides the freight class, it's also vitally important to check and recheck that every other section of the BOL is filled in accurately as well. For example:

  • Not including information on hazardous materials or any special services such as a lift gate that your shipment needs will usually incur accessorial fees.
  • Falsifying or erroneously describing the goods in the shipment could jeopardize your chances of success if any claims need to be filed for loss or damages and could also get you into legal trouble.
  • Failing to describe the proper packaging type, and then compounding that failure by not actually packaging your freight properly, could lead to damaged or lost goods, and – you guessed it – an additional fee.

As you can see, a BOL punches well above its (paper) weight when it comes to importance in your shipping. A delayed shipment, legal headache, and unnecessary fee will surely affect a shipper not taking just a few extra minutes to make sure their BOL is filled out accurately.

And of course, any time you need extra eyes and help ensuring your BOL is spot on, your shipping experts at Worldwide Express are ready to help. Remember this about the BOL: it's a small acronym with a big impact on your shipping!

Get a custom shipping consultation with our shipping team today and start simplifying your shipping right away.