Sea Waybill (SW)


The Sea Waybill is much like an ocean Bill of Lading, but non-negotiable. Its primary purposes are to serve as evidence of the contract of carriage and to confirm the goods’ receipt.


Similar to an original Bill of Lading, a Sea Waybill can be issued by both a carrier and a freight forwarder. Here’s the typical process:

  • A freight forwarder or shipper provides a ‘Shipping Instruction’ to an ocean carrier.
  • The ocean carrier reviews and processes the ‘Shipping Instruction’ and generates a draft Sea Waybill.
  • The forwarder or shipper reviews the draft Sea Waybill. If it’s acceptable, the process moves forward. If not, they request changes, and this loop continues until an acceptable version is achieved.
  • The ocean carrier then issues the final version.

A Sea Waybill is commonly used in transactions between the carrier and the freight forwarder. For instance, when a shipment is moved using a House Bill of Lading, it is quite typical for the freight forwarder to request the carrier to issue the Sea Waybill. This approach helps the forwarder save on courier fees and reduces the risk of misplacing an original document.

Legal framework

A Sea Waybill serves as evidence of the contract of carriage between the involved parties and acknowledges that the goods have been loaded.


Ocean carriers issue around 45 million bills of lading a year. Approximately 60% of Containerised Bills of Lading issued are now Sea Waybills i.e. 27 mil.

Key standards

Key industry stakeholders—Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) and FIATA—have collaborated on and mapped their standards to the UN/CEFACT Multi-Modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMTRDM).

Major differences between standards

The difference in Sea Waybill standards primarily revolves around business use cases:

  • DCSA standard is used for containerised freight movements.
  • BIMCO standard is employed for bulk shipping.
  • Freight forwarders, acting as multimodal transport operators, use the FIATA waybill.


Over the past two decades, the use of the Sea Waybill has grown significantly. While documents used to be issued in negotiable form until the early 2000s, trust has increased among trade partners and freight forwarders. This has led to a higher adoption of the Sea Waybill, except in certain countries like Brazil, where national legislation restricts its use. Approximately 60% of Containerised Bills of Lading issued are now Sea Waybills.