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Glossary of Freight Forwarding and Shipping Terms

Glossary of Terms Used in Freight Forwarding and Shipping

The freight forwarding industry, as with many others, has its own unique collection of jargon and terminology. Freight Forwarders, in particular, seem to love their acronyms for many shipping terms.

This glossary page will hopefully help to explain and demystify some of these shipping terms. You can then have a more fruitful discussion with your freight forwarder about your next shipment.

Freight Forwarding Terminology


Refers to the delivery of goods to a port for loading onto a ship. If goods are delivered Alongside they are placed within reach of ships loading equipment. This form of delivery will not include loading fees.


Two meanings;

  • To move towards the back of a ship.
  • Behind a ship


The width of a ship.

Bill of lading (B/L, BOL, BoL, BL)

A Bill of Lading is a legal document outlining a contract between the owner of goods and a carrier. If you have purchased goods from overseas you will typically need the original or copy of this document to prove ownership and take possession of your goods.

Bill of sale

A Bill of Sale is a legal document outlining the exchange of goods, usually for a particular sum of money. The Bill of Sale will also state the date and location for the transaction. In Australia, this document is similar in function to a Tax Invoice.


See; Bill of lading. Also, BoL, B/L, BL.


The front of a ship. See also; Stern.

Breakbulk vessel

A type of cargo vessel that is able to handle bulk cargo. Breakbulk vessels typically have their own machinery for loading and unloading.

Bulk cargo

Cargo that is shipped loose, without containers. Coal, mineral ores, or grain are common bulk cargoes.

Bonded warehouse

A facility authorised by a Customs Agency to all storage of goods outside the Customs Territory. This allows goods to be forwarded to another destination without paying duties for the country the bonded warehouse is located in. Also known as a Customs Bonded Warehouse.

Bond port

The initial port of entry when a cargo vessel first arrives in a country.


The front of a ship or vessel.


Any type of goods being transported


A document allowing the holder to send goods to another country without needing to pay customs duties. These goods are typically sent on a temporary basis and are often for display or demonstration purposes.


A company or business that operates shipping vessels. Shipping goods from one country to another may involve using multiple carriers.


Cubic metres, a measurement of volume. One cubic metre is equal to a box 1 metre high x 1 metre wide x 1 metre deep. Can also be written as m3. Please note; cbm should be written in lower case, however, it may sometimes be seen in uppercase (as in “CBM”).

Certificate of inspection

A document certifying that the goods have been checked and are in good condition prior to being shipped.

Certificate of Origin

A document certifying the country in which the goods were originally made.


Stands for Cost & Freight. A type of shipping contract where the seller quotes for the cost of goods including freight charges. This does not include additional costs such as insurance which are typically arranged by the buyer.


Acronym for Cost, Insurance, Freight. This is a type of shipping contract where the sender/seller quotes a price for their goods which includes all insurance, freight and other charges to the point of debarkation at the port of destination. Care should be taken with these arrangements as we continually see cases where the shipper underpays insurance or fails to pay costs leading to expensive and time-consuming issues.


See; Container load.


Cubic metres



Commercial invoice

A document issued by a seller to the buyer for the sale of goods. They contain information including what goods are being shipped, who are where they are shipping from, and who they are shipping to. Commercial invoices can be used to determine the value of goods for customs duties.

Connecting carrier

Any carrier which acts as an intermediary between others.


Typically refers to a shipping container. Containers are available in standardised sizes so that they can be easily transferred and transported.

Container load

A load large enough to fill a container by either weight or volume. Typically refers to a standard 20ft container.


An acronym for Certificate of Shipping Compliance.


An abbreviation for “cubic”. Typically attached to a unit of measurement, such as “cu ft” (cubic foot) or “cu m” (cubic metre) to describe volume.

Customs broker

An organisation or individual that helps a shipper deal with customs requirements.


The unloading of goods from a vessel.


A fee payable by the shipper or consignee for delays to the carrier’s schedule. This can often be for the late return of leased shipping containers.


Estimate Time of Arrival. Other variations include ETC, ETD, ETR, and ETS for Estimated Time of Completion, Departure, Readiness and Sailing.


Full Container Load. A full container load of goods as opposed to a smaller weight or volume of goods which may share a container with other shippers (see LCL).


Free Alongside Ship is a type of shipping contract. The seller quotes a price for the goods to be delivered Alongside a vessel at a stated port of departure. The seller is responsible for all costs to that point. The buyer is then responsible for all costs after that, including loading fees, ocean transportation and insurance.


An acronym for Free On Board. This is a form of shipping contract where the seller is relieved of responsibility for the goods once they have been loaded onto the ship at the port of origin. From this point onwards it is the buyer’s responsibility to pay for any costs or shipping insurance.

Please note; FOB has a different meaning in the USA.

Freight Forwarder

A Freight Forwarder is an independent business which organises and handles many or all of the elements of shipping goods for import or export. This can include; obtaining shipping quotes, preparing documentation, arranging insurances, advising clients on local or overseas shipping requirements, and many other aspects. We here at SPLS are freight forwarders.

GP Container

General Purpose Container. GP Containers are a standardised 8ft6 in height (external dimension). See also High cube.


International Standards Organisation.


See; High Cube. Also; hq.

High cube

High cube (often abbreviated to hc or hq) refers to extended height containers which are 9ft6 tall instead of the standard 8ft6 of general-purpose containers (See GP container). The additional foot of vertical height provides more volume in the container for shipping. They can also be useful for tall goods which will not quite fit into a GP container.


Less than Container Load. This is where the weight or volume of goods to be shipped constitutes less than a full container load. Typically LCL goods will be consolidated with other similar shipments into a single container. See also FCL.


Also written RO/RO, stands for Roll-on, Roll-off. A term used in relation to the shipping of cargoes with wheels or tracks. The cargoes can be rolled-on and rolled-off as opposed to being shipping in a cargo container. The vessels that do RORO shipping are a little like giant car ferries.

Please note that some destination ports do not allow RORO and goods must be packed in containers. Please check with us where this may apply.


The back of a ship. See also; Bow.

Tare weight

The weight of a container whilst empty.


An acronym for Twenty-foot Equivalent Units. This is a method for describing the cargo capacity of ships by how many standard 20ft shipping containers they can carry.


Additional Shipping Terms

The list of shipping terms above is by no means complete.

If you are looking to import or export goods to or from Australia, please come and speak with us. We can help minimise any confusion and make sure all your shipping is as easy as possible.