Short Form Bill of Lading

Short Form Bill of Lading (B/L)

One of the first streamlined documentation formats to be developed was the Short Form Bill of Lading (B/L), which originated in Sweden and has since gained global acceptance. The General Council of British Shipping standardized a common form in 1979 with the aim of simplifying and speeding up document production by minimizing the content on the bill. This was achieved by removing the detailed terms of the carriage contract from the back of the bill and replacing them with a concise clause that incorporates the carrier’s standard terms and conditions.

The Short Form Bill of Lading can be issued in a proprietary version, which features the carrier’s name pre-printed at the top, or in a generic version, where the carrier’s name is added by the shipper as needed. The latter format offers significant benefits, such as universal applicability and the elimination of the need for shippers to maintain stocks of carrier-specific bills.

Despite its condensed format, the Short Form Bill of Lading retains all the essential attributes of the traditional long form, serving as a receipt, proof of the contract of carriage, and a negotiable document of title. This enables the holder to sell the goods while in transit or use them as collateral with financial institutions. Its acceptance as suitable security for documentary credits further underscores its functional equivalence to the long form bill in financial circles.

In the UK, the Short Form Bill of Lading is governed by the Hague-Visby Rules when applicable. The main challenge with this type of bill is ensuring the enforceability of the incorporation clause across different legal systems. While it is generally upheld in common law jurisdictions due to compliance with the doctrine of notice, civil law jurisdictions might pose challenges, especially if the carrier’s standard terms are not easily accessible. Courts in these jurisdictions might be more inclined to protect the rights of the bill’s assignee, who may lack immediate access to these terms, unlike the original shipper.

To mitigate this risk, some shippers choose to explicitly type critical contractual provisions directly onto the Short Form Bill, including clauses related to jurisdiction, choice of law, arbitration, and explicit incorporation of the Hague-Visby Rules. However, this practice can compromise the intended simplicity of the Short Form Bill.

It’s also important to note that while the Short Form Bill is a “Received for Carriage” document, banks typically require a “Shipped Bill of Lading” for documentary credits. Although it is possible to add a shipped notation to the Short Form Bill, this can introduce delays, potentially undermining the time-saving benefits of this format.

What is Short Form Bill of Lading (B/L)?

A Bill of Lading (B/L) is a document issued by a carrier (or their agent) to acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment. In short, it’s a legally binding document between the shipper of the goods and the carrier detailing the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being carried. The B/L also serves as a shipment receipt when the carrier delivers the cargo at the predetermined destination.

There are two (2) main types of Bills of Lading: short form and long form.

A Short Form Bill of Lading (Short Form B/L) is a simplified version of the document which does not include all the terms and conditions of carriage. Instead, it refers to the full terms and conditions of the carrier’s standard long form B/L, which are usually available on the carrier’s website or upon request.

The Short Form B/L is generally used for its convenience, as it is more straightforward and less complex than its long form counterpart. It contains essential information such as the shipper’s name, the consignee’s name, the port of loading, the port of discharge, the type and quantity of goods, and the vessel’s name. However, it’s important to note that it is legally equivalent to the long form and that all the terms and conditions of the long form are binding, even if they are not explicitly stated in the short form document.

Always remember to thoroughly understand the terms and conditions mentioned in the full B/L, because when using a Short Form B/L, you are agreeing to these conditions by reference.

Importance of Short Form B/L:

A Short Form B/L is important due to its simplicity and convenience. For regular shippers who are familiar with a carrier’s terms and conditions, using a Short Form B/L can save time and reduce complexity in documentation. However, it’s essential to note that the legal implications remain the same as a long form B/L, meaning it’s not a way to bypass the terms and conditions of the carrier.

Even if the terms and conditions are not explicitly mentioned in the Short Form B/L, they are implicitly agreed to by the shipper. Therefore, it’s crucial for shippers to fully understand the referenced terms and conditions. While the Short Form B/L simplifies the process, it does not eliminate the responsibility or the obligations that come with shipping goods.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that if any dispute arises, courts will consider the terms and conditions contained in the full (long form) Bill of Lading, not just the details in the short form. So, the shipper and receiver must be well aware of all the terms and conditions that apply to their shipment.


Short Form B/L vs Long Form B/L

The primary distinction between a Short Form Bill of Lading (B/L) and a Long Form B/L lies in the amount of detail and the terms and conditions that are included directly in the document.

Short Form Bill of Lading:

A Short Form B/L is a simplified version of the Bill of Lading. It only contains the essential details of the shipment, such as:

  • The shipper’s name
  • The consignee’s name
  • The port of loading
  • The port of discharge
  • Description of the goods
  • The vessel’s name

It does not include the full terms and conditions of carriage in the document. Instead, it references the carrier’s standard long form B/L, which contains these terms and conditions. The short form is popular because of its simplicity and brevity. However, it’s important to remember that even though the terms and conditions are not directly included in the document, they still apply to the shipment.

Long Form Bill of Lading:

On the other hand, a Long Form B/L contains all the terms and conditions of the carriage directly in the document. This form includes everything from the details of the shipment, obligations, and responsibilities of the shipper and the carrier, to specific clauses regarding potential disputes or claims.

The Long Form B/L provides a comprehensive view of the agreement, which can be beneficial for shippers and consignees who want to fully understand all the terms and conditions related to their shipment. However, due to its extensive details, it can also be more complex and cumbersome to manage compared to the short form.

Both forms are legally equivalent, and the choice between a Short Form B/L and a Long Form B/L often comes down to the shipper’s preference for simplicity versus detail. It’s always important, however, to fully understand the terms and conditions associated with the shipment, whether they are directly included in the B/L or referenced in a short form document.

It must also be remembered that the Short Form Bill of Lading (B/L) is basically a Received for Carriage Document, whereas banks providing for documentary credits normally call for a Shipped Bill of Lading (B/L).

A Short Form Bill of Lading (B/L) is essentially a document that acknowledges the receipt of goods for transportation. It’s an important document in international trade, used between the shipper and carrier. This document stipulates the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being carried.

However, unlike a long form B/L, a short form B/L does not include the complete terms and conditions of carriage. Instead, it refers to the terms and conditions as stated in the carrier’s long form B/L, which can usually be accessed on the carrier’s website or available upon request.

The short form B/L is often used for its convenience and simplicity, but it’s important for the shipper to be aware of the detailed terms and conditions in the long form B/L to avoid potential legal issues.