How to move goods by sea

Key documents for transporting goods by sea


As with most aspects of international trade, using ocean shipping to transport your goods involves the completion of specific documents. The list below shows the key documents, but is not comprehensive.

Export Cargo Shipping Instruction

An Export Cargo Shipping Instruction (ECSI) is the document by which you provide the shipping company with details of your goods and set out your instructions for the shipment. It follows up on the initial booking, when space will have been confirmed on particular sailings. The process is often concluded by telephone.

You are not required to use an ESCI, but it's good exporting practice to do so because it's a helpful checklist at the planning stage.

In addition to an ESCI you will also need one of the following:

Standard Shipping Note

You'll need a Standard Shipping Note (SSN) if your goods are non-hazardous. This gives the port of loading the information it needs to handle your goods correctly. The SSN is also used by the shipping company to check the actual information about the goods once they have been loaded into the container with the predicted information supplied beforehand.

Download an example Standard Shipping Note (ODT, 10K).

Dangerous Goods Note

You'll need a Dangerous Goods Note (DGN) if your goods are hazardous. This document details the nature of any dangerous goods in a consignment and the hazards presented by them.

Download an example Dangerous Goods Note (DOC, 14K).

In addition to an SSN or DGN, you will also need one of the following:

Bill of Lading

A Bill of Lading is issued by the carrier and serves three purposes. The Bill of Lading will:

  • show that the carrier has received the goods
  • provide evidence of a contract of carriage
  • serve as a document of title to the goods

Sea Waybill

A Sea Waybill  fulfils the same practical functions as the bill of lading, but does not confer title to the goods and is therefore quicker and easier to use. It's often used where there's a well-established trading relationship between buyer and seller or in transactions where ownership doesn't change hands, eg between divisions of a single company.