Shipping Manifest: A Comprehensive Overview

International shipping may be one of the most challenging and complicated operations, entailing a ton of complex paperwork and approval. Without adequate paperwork, you can never be sure that your shipments will reach their destination securely or that any issues will be dealt with properly during the customs process. However, your shipping process will be greatly facilitated if you provide the most accurate documents. Shipping manifests are the ones that help settle any disputes that may arise during the shipping process and benefit all parties involved with many advantages. Keep reading to find out what they really are, what they contain, why they matter, and what categories they fall into.

An Introduction to Shipping Manifest

A shipping manifest is a document that lists all of the items that are being shipped. The shipper uses this document to track the items, and the receiver also uses that to verify all of the items were received. The shipping manifest should include a description, the quantity, the weight, and the value of each item. It is, in fact, an essential document because it ensures that all of the items that were shipped arrive at the destination. This document is also used to settle any disputes that may arise between the shipper and the receiver.

On a shipping manifest, the complete list of all goods the vessel carries will be visible below the vessel’s name and identification markings. Carriers depend on accurate shipping manifests for smooth transit from port to port. However, the accuracy of a manifest depends on the other papers that were used to generate it. Importers and exporters must double-check correctness at this point.

A shipping manifest typically serves these purposes:

  • It lists the specific BOL for onboard cargo.
  • It is utilized by carriers to produce invoices for importers and exporters.
  • It includes directions for pick-up and delivery (ports of departure and arrival).
  • It is employed to monitor what enters and exits the ship at any given time.
  • It serves as customs paperwork upon arriving at ports of entry.

Why a Shipping Manifest Matters

Cargo Inspection

A shipping manifest is a critical document for a few reasons. First, it ensures that your shipment arrives at its destination safely and intact. This document also serves as a way to communicate with your shipping company; if there are any problems with your shipment, the shipping manifest will be the first place they look. Finally, a shipping manifest is also helpful in the event of a dispute between the shipper and the receiver. If there is damage to the shipment or any items are missing, the shipping manifest will be used to determine who is responsible.

Shipping Manifest vs. Bill of Lading

The contents of a cargo manifest and a bill of lading may be similar, and the concepts are not necessarily distinct. Sometimes a single paper can accomplish both goals. A cargo manifest frequently is primarily concerned with the physical characteristics of the cargo, such as weight and size. In contrast, a bill of lading generally functions as a legal construct focused on and recording such concerns as ownership. There will often be separate bills of lading for each shipping firm transporting the goods on the same ship, but there will only be one consolidated cargo manifest. On the other side, there can be a different dangerous cargo manifest if the consignment includes hazardous materials.

How Is a Shipping Manifest Dependent on BOL?

Since shipping manifests are created based on facts from the Bill of Lading, the more precise the BOL, the better the shipping manifest.

Consider the following scenario. You are bringing porcelain vases from China in containers labeled “Fragile” and positioning arrows for proper placement. Nonetheless, special instructions are not added to the shipping manifest due to the BOL’s absence of care handling information. Your boxes wind up sharing space with grain bins thrown around in all directions; consequently, few pieces of your cargo survive the journey. The cost is still your responsibility.

Now take another example. Imagine organizing a sizable cargo of machine components from South Korea that will be delivered to a factory close to Portland, Oregon. Your machine components wind up in Portland, Maine, due to a shipping documentation error that has not been discovered. You now have to deal with additional charges due to the shipping delays and devise a plan to get the components across the country to their actual location. In this scenario, the importer would be at fault rather than the transporter.

Naturally, the opposite is also accurate. Suppose the shipment documents were examined to validate the delivery of machine components to Portland, Oregon, and you did have specific care instructions for the porcelain vases. In that case, your shipper is responsible for any faults.

The bottom line is that the more accurate the Bill of Lading, the better the shipping manifest. This is because the shipping manifest is created based on the information in the BOL. Therefore, it is vital to be precise when completing the Bill of Lading to avoid shipment problems. In a nutshell, a transparent and accurate shipping manifest safeguards every party involved in international trade while making going through the Customs procedure at any port smoother.

Different Types of Shipping Manifests

Several types of shipping manifests identify particular scenarios to handle the wide range of commodities. For instance, if you are shipping hazardous goods, you will need to use a different shipping manifest than if you are sending non-hazardous materials. No matter what kind of manifest you use, accuracy is always essential. You need to provide precise descriptions of the cargo, together with a note of any indicated special handling requirements or needs.

For example, the freight manifest exchanged between two liner agents in the ports of departure and arrival might be used for business objectives. The customs manifest, which must be given to customs upon arrival in a country’s first port, is one example of a manifest that may be prepared for regulatory reasons. The legal validity of the two papers is fundamentally different, even though the content on the freight manifest and customs manifest differs only slightly in most cases.

Here are the main types of shipping manifests you need to tell apart.

Cargo Manifest

A cargo manifest includes a list of all cargo carried on a ship, plane, or train. The manifest consists of the type of cargo, the quantity of cargo, the shipment’s destination, and the shipper’s name.

Freight Manifest

The freight manifest will also list the freight costs for each consignment carried on board the vessel, in addition to the name of the item, number, and weight of each item, category of the article, and the name and address of the consignor and consignee, which are all shown on the cargo manifest. This is carried out to collect freight fees from the shipper at the port of origin or the shipment recipient at the discharge port. The freight manifest can also be employed to calculate the freight commission, etc. It could also cover the “C.O.D.” (cash on delivery) fee that the sender charges the recipient for any extra services like pre-delivery, storage, container filling, etc.

Out-of-Gauge Manifest

Oversized Cargo

An Out-of-Gauge Manifest is a document used to ship oversized or overweight cargo. This type of manifest is required when the shipment does not conform to standard or average shipping dimensions or weights. The Out-of-Gauge Manifest must be completed by the shipper and include detailed information about the cargo, such as dimensions, weight, and value. The blades of wind turbines, construction equipment, automotive trailers, etc., are examples of out-of-gauge freight.

Given that OOG objects have unusual dimensions providing information like the right lifting points enables the crew to load and unload goods securely. Safe unloading ensures that your cargo makes it to its destination without damaging your profit margins.

Reefer Manifest

A reefer, often known as a refrigerated container, is a shipping container used to carry goods sensitive to temperature changes and extremes. Food products, prescription medications, and delicate electronic equipment are examples of temperature-sensitive products that must be carried and stored at particular temperatures and humidity levels.

A reefer manifest will contain all the information about the refrigerated containers on board the ship for delivery to various consignees at various locations. The specifics would include the reefer containers’ onboard temperature settings, humidity settings, and other specifications.

Export and Import General Manifests

The manifest for import and export is the same as the cargo manifest. An export manifest is filed to the port customs when the ship is about to leave the dock. The import manifest is the document that is sent to port customs before or as soon as a ship arrives at the port. Every port has different criteria for submitting these manifests. However, the most typical requirement is that the export manifest is turned in to port customs before the ship leaves the load port.

The usual rule for the import manifest is that it must be handed into the port customs of the destination port when the vessel departs the last foreign port of call before arriving at the discharge port.

The majority of international ports have tight requirements for the reporting of export/import manifests. Goods may not be able to be loaded into the vessel or unloaded from it if the conditions are not met.

Hazardous Cargo Manifest

Explosive Cargo

Hazardous cargo is any dangerous good or material classified as potentially harmful to people, animals, or the environment. These items must be listed on a dangerous cargo manifest to be transported by a cargo vessel. The manifest must include the correct classification of the hazardous materials, as well as the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) codes and Medical First Aid Guide (MFAG) details. Dangerous goods are typically stored in a separate area of the vessel and handled with care to avoid accidents. Some examples of hazardous cargo include toxic or corrosive chemicals, compressed gases, radioactive materials, and explosive materials.

Is the Cargo Manifest Modifiable?

Customs authorities worldwide are generally strict about making changes to cargo manifests. This is because changes to specific details would call for changes to customs duties, etc. That’s why Changes to prices, HS codes, rates, quantities, types of commodities, etc., are often not permitted. Corrections that can be made are subject to fines from customs officials in some ports. Additionally, there are dates beyond which modifications cannot be made.

Changes to a cargo manifest may be made online using a cargo manifest corrector option. This form may also be filled offline and submitted in some cases. The carrier agent will charge a manifest corrector fee for such corrections.

The Final Word

The shipping manifest is a critical document every shipper needs in the shipping process. It tracks the shipment, communicates with the shipping company, and settles disputes. It is essential to be accurate when creating the shipping manifest to avoid any problems with the shipment. There are several types of shipping manifests, and each has its purpose.

If you have any questions about different types of shipping manifests and find it challenging to provide them for your shipments, feel free to contact our experts at DFreight. We are all ready to give you a hand through every step of your shipment process.


What is a shipping manifest?

A shipping manifest is a document that lists all of the items that are being shipped.

What is the purpose of a shipping manifest?

A shipping manifest serves several purposes, including listing the specific BOL for onboard cargo, producing invoices for importers and exporters, and monitoring what enters and exits the ship at any given time.

What is the difference between a shipping manifest and a bill of lading?

A shipping manifest typically lists the physical characteristics of the cargo, such as weight and size, while a bill of lading is focused on legal constructs such as ownership.

How is a shipping manifest dependent on a bill of lading?

A shipping manifest is created based on the information in the bill of lading, so it is important to be as precise as possible when completing the bill of lading to avoid any shipment problems.

What are the different types of shipping manifests?

There are several types of shipping manifests, including cargo manifests, freight manifests, out-of-gauge manifests, reefer manifests, and export and import manifests.

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