The bill of lading has been a staple of the maritime shipping industry for centuries. Its evolution to facilitate three core functions was slow and arduous, with little change in the bill of lading’s form and function ever since. The advancement of electronic communication brought the prospect of electronic alternatives; however, the concept never succeeded, plagued with issues of excessive costs, trust and privacy concerns from industry participants and a lack of global legal recognition of the electronic bill of lading and the three functions. But the advent of blockchain technology has brought with it the prospect of blockchain bills of lading overcoming the problems of the past. This article argues that despite the promise of the technology, the global adoption of blockchain bills of lading is not guaranteed. It first addresses the lack of a universal legal framework, be it via uniform domestic laws or an international instrument, and evaluates the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records as an imperfect but necessary solution. It also highlights that the technology’s commercial scalability is dependent on establishing a broad global network of industry participants, which in turn requires overcoming issues of trust in the technology and industry competitors, accessibility, and interoperability of the various siloed blockchain solutions that currently exist. These obstacles can arguably be overcome, but it requires addressing both the legal and non-legal issues simultaneously rather than linearly, as well as unprecedented coordination between key industry stakeholders and public organisations at the domestic, regional and international levels.