A bill of lading is a document that serves as both a contract and a receipt between a freight company and its customers. This document describes the items that the customer is shipping, as well as the terms of the agreement between the two parties. Many times, freight companies transport multiple loads on the same ship, airplane or truck. To keep track of these various loads, the company creates a master bill of lading, which consolidates the bill of lading for each individual load into a single document. The master bill of lading contains a wide variety of information, including contact information for customers, item descriptions, and terms of agreement.
Each master bill of lading features a section where the company can list any special instructions related to a load or loads. In this section, the company includes a list of all bill of lading numbers associated with a particular voyage. This lets the shipping company easily track the loads they are transporting, and helps crews determine which loads are being released at each stop. All of these lesser bills of lading, also known as house or underlying bills, are attached to the back of the master bill of lading for easy reference.
The master lading bill also includes basic information, including the date that the freight company took possession of the shipments, and the date they are expected to be delivered. This document also outlines terms regarding who is responsible for damage to each load. A section may be reserved for shippers to note any damage they see when loading the merchandise. Many of these bills have a space for a freight company representative to sign for the loads, indicating that they were received in good condition.
The freight industry relies heavily on consolidators, or brokers, who make arrangements on behalf of customers to transport goods with freight companies. The master bill of lading will include contact information for both the broker and the underlying customers, as well as contact information for the person designated to receive the merchandise.
Finally, the master bill of lading includes a detailed list of all freight being transported. This list includes items from all loads, and may not be organized on a load-by-load basis. For example, if the freight company is carrying five pallets of electronics for client A and five pallets of electronics for client B, the master bill of lading may simply list ten cases of electronics. This document reflects quantities, sizes, weight, and packaging information for each item being transported.