Bills of Lading: A Guide to Good Practice (Third Edition)

Number of Pages:
Book Height:
210 mm
Book Width:
146 mm
0.4 kg
Published Date:
August 2019
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This publication is designed to help understand Bills of Lading and the problems and practical issues common to their everyday use.

This guide to Bills of Lading looks at the problems and practical issues common to their everyday use. It explains how to avoid disputes and challenges arising from improper usage and contains both practical guidance and a theory section that shows the legal foundations of the advice given.

The text also includes copies of relevant international conventions, an annotated copy of the BIMCO Congenbill and the latest set of recommended standard letters.

This third edition has been updated to include electronic Bills of Lading.

In 1996 the North of England P&I Association issued a simple questionnaire to readers of its loss prevention newsletter Signals. It asked for their experiences with regard to the issue of Bills of Lading and subsequent delivery of cargo against those Bills of Lading. The majority of answers were received from shipowners’ offices or from masters, with agents, operators, financiers and others also responding.

A number of specific problems set a recurring theme:

  • Pressure on the master to issue clean Bills of Lading
  • disagreement between ship’s and shore figures
  • agents signing Bills of Lading without reference to the mate’s receipts or in excess of their authority from the master
  • requests to deliver the cargo without production of the original bill of lading.

A general point also emerged which can be summarised by one member’s comment:

‘I have noticed a distinct casualness by shippers, receivers and their agents at load/discharge ports about the importance to the master of Bills of Lading. Conclusion: they are ignorant of its legal purposes.’

Strong words, but possibly true. Although the bill of lading is a key document in a transaction where the cargo and freight together may be worth several millions of dollars, masters who are diligent or cautious in their handling of that document may often be seen by others as obstructive or awkward. If masters are to stand their ground and justify their stance, then they may need to know not only what they have to do, but why they are doing it.

The aim of this guide is to assist ship’s officers, operators and managers in the understanding of Bills of Lading and the problems and practical issues surrounding their everyday use. The hope is that they will then be able to deal with these situations and the many others that arise in connection with what is a vital and unique document.

1. Introduction

2. Quick Reference

3. Practical Guidance

4. Theory

5. Electronic Bills of Lading

6. Legal Notes


I. Glossary

II. Standard letter of authority to issue Bills of Lading

III. P&I club circulars on standard letters of indemnity

IV. Standard letters of indemnity

V. Hague Rules

VI. Hague-Visby Rules

VII. Hamburg Rules

VIII. List of countries applying the conventions

IX. UK Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992

X. P&I club circulars on electronic (paperless) trading systems

XI. International Group of P&I Clubs frequently asked questions of August 2013 on paperless trading



North P&I Club

North is a leading global marine insurer with over 160 years of history in the industry. Our purpose today remains as it was on our inception in 1860; to enable our Members to trade with confidence.

Over the years our service offering and our global office network has grown but our business has remained grounded where it all began; the North East of England.

With a global service built around you and your business, expect a warm and friendly welcome whenever or wherever you deal with us, from people who genuinely care about your business.

Number of Pages:
Binding Format:
Book Height:
210 mm
Book Width:
146 mm
0.4 kg

North P&I Club

Published Date:
August 2019