Logistics Know How

What's the difference between the Bill of Lading and the Sea Waybill?

Whether you're buying or selling overseas, you ultimately want your goods to reach their destination. Appropriate Bills of Lading must be issued for each transport. But what type should be issued? An "Original Bill of Lading" or a "Sea Waybill"? This article compares both document types to make your decision easier.

Anna-Sophia Metzel, Maik Schulze, 11 August 2022

One of the key shipping documents is the one which states the ownership of the goods. However, there are different documents to do so: the Bill of Lading & Sea Waybill. In this article, we are explaining the meaning of both and how they differ from each other. 

What's the meaning of the Bill of Lading? 

The so-called "Original Bill of Lading" (B/L) is also referred to as the Bill of Lading and has an important meaning in shipping. It describes the goods to be transported and certifies the right to ownership of these goods. Especially when you are entering new business partnerships, this will be helpful for you as you might not yet have established trust concerning "delivery" or "payment" in your new business partner. The Bill of Lading is a final receipt (i.e. evidence that the goods have been loaded on board a vessel) that defines the contract of carriage between carrier and merchant and serves as a document to the title of the goods. 

There are two types of Bill of Lading:  

  • The negotiable Bill of Lading: The legal title of the cargo can pass from the Original Bill of Lading holder to a third party. It is done through a consignment, an arrangement in which the title of goods is transferred from a consignor to a consignee (the buyer). The consignee is a third party who will sell goods on behalf of the producer, usually by collecting a commission. The consignee takes financial responsibility and legal ownership of the goods. 

  • The non-negotiable Bill of Lading: The consignee is named when the bill is issued and cannot later be changed. It is therefore not possible for the shipper or the consignee to transfer legal title and ownership of the cargo to a third party by means of endorsing the bill. 

If you are using a negotiable Bill of Lading, the originals must be endorsed. That means a traceable chain of ownership must be documented by stamp and signature on the front of the document (where you can find the terms & conditions). Starting with the shipper, followed by the respective buyers. No endorsements are required for non-negotiable Bills of Lading. Deliveries are only made to the recipient designated in the consignee field unless the latter issues a letter of subrogation to the carrier for another recipient. For the cargo release to the consignee, at least one original B/L must be submitted to the responsible Twill office in the port of discharge. Check our overview of international container shipping routes to learn more.

The Bill of Lading is a physical document and is usually issued at the origin by the carrier to the shipper (owner of the goods). It can be picked up from our local office, or we can send it to you using courier service at your request. As our customer, you can also print the Bill of Lading at your premises upon entering a specific agreement with the carrier.

A Telex release (or digital cargo release) is an alternative for customers using the Original BL to avoid the hassle of sending documents back and forth and the risk of losing the BL. It is also more environmentally friendly.

In some countries, such as Bangladesh, there is no alternative to the Bill of Lading due to local legislation. However, since these are more exceptions than rules, we will further explain the Sea Waybill as an alternative to the Bill of Lading. 

What is the Sea Waybill? 

The Sea Waybill, on the other hand, is a simple, non-negotiable transport document. Compared to the Bill of Lading, no original document is needed for cargo delivery. It does not have to be printed and is sufficient in electronic form to fulfil its functions. You can download it on our platform and print it out as often. There is no need to endorse the Sea Waybill, nor is there a need to mail them, courier or any other service. We can release the containers directly at the port of discharge to the stipulated receiver since no proof of ownership is required here. In terms of effort, it is much easier for everyone involved and is particularly suitable for regular transactions with a high level of trust. Using a letter of subrogation, you can also have the goods accepted by a recipient other than those named in the Sea Waybill. 

Checklist: Bill of Lading vs. Sea Waybill

The following checklist provides a quick overview of the differences between the Bill of Lading and the Sea Waybill. However, since we naturally have no insight into your business transactions, it should only be understood as a guideline. It is, of course, up to you which document type you choose.

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Find out more about the world of international logistics 

You are now well prepared to decide for yourself which type of document you want to work with. To learn more about logistics, visit our knowledge hub for logistics know-how, trends, events and news. If you want to check schedules and prices for free, you can sign up for our digital logistics platform – it's free and takes only a few steps to get started. 

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