Photograph of RMS Lusitania, 1907 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/512/447)

This is a brief guide to finding records of merchant ships. The National Archives holds many records relating to government regulation of merchant shipping, but they can be difficult to search. There are also many records of merchant shipping in local archives.

Did you know?

Agreements and crew listswritten agreements regarding conditions of service and crew lists filed by ships' masters with the Registrar General of Shipping often also contain integral logs giving details of ships and voyages.

Although the numbers of ships and trained sailors have been recorded since the medieval period, few of these early records survive.

A series of Navigation Acts from 1660 onwards aimed to make British merchants use British built ships with predominantly British masters for the carriage of their goods. Registration of ships came about as a result of these Acts.

The Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (renamed the Registry of Shipping and Seamen in 1992) was formally established by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1872.