An ocean bill of lading serves as documentation for the contents of a commercial shipment traveling across international waters. This document, or often set of documents, is included with goods being delivered by sea and essentially certifies that the product is on the boat while also noting value, shipping and receiving dates, and condition of the shipment. Suppliers, transporters, insurers, and receivers of goods can use a bill of lading for triggering terms and agreements related to the goods shipped.
This documentation is often legally required for goods crossing a body of water into another country. Part of the importance of such documentation is the value and other declarations that are stated on the bill of lading. These can be used to establish ownership once on land, and assess taxes, fees, and insurance. The details can also determine when the goods have passed from seller to buyer, as the dates and condition of delivery are generally included.
An ocean bill of lading can also include revenue information for any items crossing international waters, and while contracts for these goods generally outline payment terms and shipment details, the responsibility of representing the product accurately also can be very important. When the items being shipped are in transit, the terms of responsibility and ownership can be less clear to establish.
Other aspects certified by an ocean bill of lading are that the entire product has been shipped, it is not damaged, and it fulfills the terms of the sale or contract with the customer. When a large piece of machinery is being provided for an overseas customer, for example, it may be shipped in parts for assembly by the purchaser at its destination. The documentation can track the condition of each part at various transit points — damage or loss incurred in transit or upon arrival may be assessed through the accompanying documents.
There are many complexities to an ocean bill of lading, and what is stated at the time of shipment becomes part of the record determining the handling of monies attached to the goods. Time and date stamps, value and condition, and country of manufacture of individual components all factor into the preparation of the shipping documentation. It serves as part freight voucher, part inventory checklist, part legal claim, and part invoice for sea-bound products, with added layers of complexity depending on the origination and destination.