General guide to freight documentation

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General Guide to Freight Documentation

Freight shipping relies on accurate and detailed documentation to run smoothly. Documents shared between the shipper, carrier, and consignee can help outline the precise size, weight, and contents of a shipment, keep track of a load, indicate which party is responsible for payments, and confirm when cargo has arrived and whether any items have been damaged or lost. While international freight may require additional documentation depending on what it is and where and how it is shipped, nearly all interstate transportation of goods within the United States requires some or all of the documents listed and described below. First-time shippers should become familiar with these documents and learn how to correctly fill them out to ensure their freight is accounted for and to avoid any confusion or miscommunication during the shipping process.


FOB (Free On Board) 

FOB, or free on board, terms of sales dictate which party will be liable for a shipment’s transportation costs, which party is responsible for the movement of the cargo, and when the title passes to the buyer.

For example, if the FOB terms indicate that the shipment is FOB Delivered, it means that the shipper will be responsible for all of the carrier’s costs. If FOB terms indicate a shipment is FOB Origin, it means the buyer will take the title of the goods when they are shipped and be responsible for all transportation costs.

BOL (Bill of Lading)

A BOL, or bill of lading, is a document that serves as a contract between shippers and carriers, a receipt for services, and a document of title. The bill of lading contains all the information necessary for the carrier and driver to execute the freight shipment and invoice it correctly, such as the name and address of the consignor and consignee, a description of the goods being transported, and the terms of the contract between shipper and carrier. The BOL should be provided to the carrier upon pickup, and a copy should be attached to the shipment itself.


Freight Bill

A freight bill is a carrier’s invoice to the shipper for all charges incurred during shipping. A freight bill will include a description of the items being shipped, the details of the shipment, the consignee’s information, the origin and destination of the shipment, the total weight, and the total charges.

In the event that the items being shipped are valued at less than the total freight charges, the carrier may ask the shipper for prepayment. If not, the carrier may present a freight bill upon collection, which is typically on the day of delivery.


POD (Proof of Delivery)

POD, or proof of delivery, is a receipt presented by the carrier to the consignee at the time of delivery of a shipment and includes information such as time of delivery, delivery address, the name of the consignee, and the signature of the person receiving the shipment. The consignee must ensure that all goods in the shipment are accounted for and have arrived without visible damage and sign the POD to confirm this. If damage or loss is present, the consignee should make a note of it on the POD for use in future carrier or freight insurance claims. Once the POD has been signed, ownership and any subsequent damage to the goods become the responsibility of the consignee.


W&I Report (Weighing and Inspection Report)

W&I reports, or weighing and inspection reports, tend to be more common in LTL freight than other types of shipping. A W&I report is made when a carrier inspects a shipment, and there are discrepancies between its description on the bill of lading and its actual freight characteristics. If the actual shipment’s weight, dimensions, freight classification, or other information is different than that listed on the BOL, a carrier will fill out a W&I report to note the difference. This report is then used to adjust the shipping cost from what was originally quoted to account for the changes.

A shipper can avoid the unexpected additional charges incurred by W&I reports by making sure to accurately weigh, measure, and classify their freight at the time of the initial quote.


Cargo Claim Form

A cargo claim form, also known simply as a claim form, is a document that customers fill out if there is any damage or loss to a shipment. The claim form should outline the exact nature of the damage or loss and the specific dollar amount of the value lost. The form should also provide sufficient information alleging that the damage or loss occurred while the shipment was in possession of the carrier during the transportation time frame outlined by the BOL.

Cargo claims are subject to a time limit, usually within nine months of damage or non-delivery, and if a carrier does not receive a claim in this time frame, payment is barred by law. A claim can be filed by the shipper, consignee, or the owner of the goods.

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