Shipping companies issue sea waybills to shippers as a sort of proof or evidence that there is a contract of carriage between the shipper in question and the shipping company. In order words, the sea waybill is a document that serves as proof that the shipper actually received the goods from the shipper and agreed to carry it to a stated destination. In a sense, the sea waybill is similar the bill of lading, which is the main shipping document.
The sea waybill is important because it serves an alternative for a bill of lading for the purposes of shipping goods and having someone collect the goods on arrival at the destination port. The reason why this document is necessary is because the bill of lading might take a much longer time to arrive because of situations such as postal delays and other unforeseen circumstances. In this sense, the sea waybill also serves as an authorization for the goods covered by the document to be released to the consignee named on the document. Such a precaution helps shippers expedite the process of offloading the cargo on arrival at their final destination. Without the waybill, they might be obliged to wait for the arrival of the various bills of ladings for the different cargos, which might delay the offloading process.
To this end, shippers usually require those who seek to ship any cargo to present sea waybills before they will accept the cargo from them. This assures them that they will not be subjected to any unnecessary delay caused by the late arrival of the bill of lading at the discharge port. This document is used in both international and local trips. For international trips, the owner of the cargo might require the shipper to pick up the goods from one point and deliver the goods to the consignee. In this type of arrangement, sea waybills often come in handy to speed up the process of delivering the goods without waiting for the arrival of the bill of lading.
One major distinction between sea waybills and bills of lading is that the bill of lading can transfer title, but the sea waybill cannot do the same. This means that the bill of lading can be used as a form of collateral, unlike the sea waybill. The reason for this is because the name of the consignee on the sea waybill is locked and cannot be changed after it has been issued by the owner of the cargo. On the contrary, the owner of the cargo or the person whose name is on the bill of lading can transfer the title to anyone.