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Merchant Seaman and Shipping Records

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Muster Rolls

The Muster Rolls, started in 1730, are the accounts of collections made towards the Seamen’s Fund (1696). This fund was maintained by contributions – 6d per month (pro-rata) for each crewman.

Records survive in part from 1747 for the ports of Aberdeen, Bristol, Cardigan, Dartmouth, Dundee, Drogheda, Greenock, Lancaster, Leith, Newport, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Scarborough, Shields, Whitby and others.

It is worth noting that there are also Ship's Muster Rolls in other Repositories

Seamen’s Fund records

BT 98/1-139 Muster Rolls 1747 - 1857
CUST 66/227 Outport Records: Plymouth 1776 - 1780
CUST 91/111 Outport Records: Scaborough1747 - 1750

Agreements & Crew Lists and Ship’s Logs

The Agreement & Crew Lists (A&CL) are the main source for maintaining the various registers of crew and officers. On foreign voyages, an A&CL is filed for each voyage. Trade vessels file A&CLs twice a year. Some A&CL containing casualties and death lists for WW1 are in included BT 99.

BT 98/140 -end All surviving A&CLs. (100% A&CLs for the years 1835 – 1860) 1835 - 1960
BT 99 A&CLs & some Logs (100% of the surviving A&CLs plus ships’ logs for the period 1939 – 1950 held partly in BT 99, BT 100, BT 380 and BT 381) 1861 - 1994
BT 100 Celebrated ships A&CLs, we have 100% of the selected vessels (100% of the surviving A&CLs plus ships’ logs for the period 1939 – 1950 held partly in BT 99, BT 100, BT 380 and BT 381) 1835 - 1999
BT 144 Fishing Vessels A&CLs (covers 10% of fishing vessels ) 1884 - 1929
BT 380 WWII A&CLs and Log Books (100% of the surviving A&CLs plus ships’ logs for the period 1939 – 1950 held partly in BT 99, BT 100, BT 380 and BT 381) 1939 – 1950
BT 381 WWII A&CLs and Log Books (100% of the surviving A&CLs plus ships’ logs for the period 1939 – 1950 held partly in BT 99, BT 100, BT 380 and BT 381) 1939 – 1946
BT 385 index to WWII A&CLs (WWII years can be searched by the ship’s official numbers) 1939 – 1950
BT 387 UK merchant seamen who served on allied ships during WWII (WWII years can be searched by the ship’s official numbers) 1939 – 1946
BT 165 Extracted ship’s log books BT 165/2035 holds logs with marriage entries1857 – 1972

Agreements and Crew Lists are arranged by official number. For those that know a ship's official number and wish to know its name, try looking at This currently covers Official Numbers up to 120,000 but will eventually go up to 200,000

If you know the ship's name and need to know its Official Number then try:

Approximately 70% for 1863 – 1938 and 1951 – 1976 are at the Maritime History Archive. 10% at the National Maritime Museum (90% for 1861 – 1862 and 90% for years ending in 5, thereafter except 1945.

Residual surviving A&CLs are at the various County Record Offices Find details here

Note: From 1976 the records have been destroyed

See the Your Archives page on Ships Log

Registers of Seamen

1835 to 1844 First Register of Merchant Seaman's service

For information about seamen before 1835, there might be details in other sources such as newspapers or documents in private collections.

The registration of seamen was introduced by the Merchant Shipping Act 1835. These records are held at The National Archives under the following classifications: BT 120: Register of Seamen Series 1. (1835-1836). These records are arranged alphabetically. BT 112: Register of Seamen: Series 11. (1835-1844). BT 119: Alphabetical Index to Seamen. This index provides the registration number of the seaman.

Copies of a guide to accessing series I II & III registers are available in the Reading Rooms at The National Archives, Kew.

BT 120 Series I The details include place and date of birth or age, his capacity and the ship on which he served. 1835 - 1836

1845 to 1854 Second Register of Merchant Seaman's Service

The Merchant Shipping Act 1844 stipulated that every British seaman should have a register ticket. The details given when applying for a ticket were: Name, Date and place of birth, Date and capacity of first going to sea, Capacity since: any Royal Navy ship served in, and capacity; Present employment at sea, home address.

BT 112 Series II Register has annual columns showing details of the voyages for each year. 1835 – 1844
BT 119 Index to BT 112 (Part of the index is in BT 112) 1835 - 1844

Seamen's Ticket System

The seaman’s ticket system was introduced to circumvent administration problems with the series II register and to enable a seaman to carry with him a note of his service and character. In 1853 the ticketing system gave way to a new register, Series III.

These records are held at The National Archives under the following classifications: BT 113: Registers of Seaman's Tickets. (1845-1853). In Certificate number order. BT 114: Alphabetical Index to registers of Seaman's Tickets. BT 115: Alphabetical Register of Masters tickets.

1854 to 1856 Third Register of Merchant Seaman's service

This register of Merchant Seamen service was opened in 1854. This was arranged in alphabetical order and contained the following details of seaman: age, place of birth, details of voyage, including name of ship and port of departure. In 1856 it was considered that the obligation to maintain a register of seaman was satisfied by the crew list and the register was closed.

The records of this are held at The National Archives in the following classification BT 116: Register of Seamen: Series 111.

From 1857 seamen were given Discharge ‘A’ number that can be sometimes be found against a seamen’s name in the Agreement and Crew List

BT 116 The last 19th Century Seamen’s Register. Arranged alphabetically. 1853 – 1857

By 1857 the Board of Trade (BT) felt that Agreements and Crew Lists satisfied the needs of the various Acts. A formal seamen’s register was abandoned until 1913 when the Series IV Register was started. Following Series III there is a gap until 1918.

BT 113 Replaced the register from 1845 – 1854. 1845 – 1854
BT 114 Nominal Index to Seamen’s Tickets 1845 - 1854

1913 to 1940 Fourth Register of Merchant Seaman's service

These records are available at The National Archives and are held in classifications BT 364: Register of Seaman, Combined Numerical Index (CR1, CR2 and CR10). Microfiche of these three index series are held in the following classes: BT 348: Register of Seamen, Central Index, Numerical Series (CR 2), BT 349: Register of Seamen, Central Index, Alphabetical Series (CR 1) and BT 350: Register of Seamen, Special Index, Alphabetical Series (CR 10).

The original records for the above named classifications are now held at Southampton Archives.

  • 1857 - 1918 for gaps between these records see section later on in article concerning certificates of competency and service

At some point BT ordered the destruction of part of the Fourth Register covering 1913 – 1917.

BT 350 (CR10) Arranged alphabetically. Series IV comprises three separate collections of microfilmed index cards, CR10, CR1 and CR2 1918 – 1920
BT 349 (CR1) arranged alphabetically. CR10 and CR2 cards includes a photograph of the crewman 1921 – 1941
BT 348 (CR2) Arranged alphabetically 1921 – 1941
BT 364 Comprises a failed attempt to merge CR1, CR2 and CR10 cards extracted from the series IV collections.

The original card indexes are held by the Southampton Civic Archives

1941 to 1972 Fifth Register of Merchant Seaman's Service

Records of individual Merchant Seamen's sea service details are held in alphabetical surname order. These details include the following information: Name of seaman, Date of birth, Discharge book number, Rank. Details of the ships on which he served, these include: Name of ship and official number, date of engagement (Joining ship), Date of discharge (Leaving ship).

Details shown in these records are similar to those contained in an individual seaman's discharge book and are thus confidential to the seaman himself or, if deceased, his next of kin. If you wish to obtain details of a family member you must provide documentary evidence that you are related to the seaman concerned. Contact the RGSS for further information.

1941 is the earliest date which the Registry of Shipping and Seamen hold records of seaman. Records prior to this date have now been transferred to The National Archives.

BT 382 (CRS10) Initially compiled from extracted cards from Series IV, for seamen were likely to continue to serve during WW2 1941 – 1972

Seamen’s Pouches

BT 372 Not all seamen had a pouch. 95,000 were destroyed in the mid 20th century. The pouches may contain discharge and identity cards, application forms and maybe some personal items, including photographs 1913 – 1972
BT 390 Pouches of seamen who served on Royal Navy ships under T12X and T124T agreements 1944 – 1945
BT 391 Pouches of Merchant Seamen: special operations records. Sea service after D-Day, to/from France/Germany, to May 1945 1944 -1945

Pension Records

The majority of the seamen's fund pension payment books do not appear to have survived. The series listed below represent examples only. There have been various government schemes, but we do not have all the records.

WO 22 1842-1883
J 96 1943-1993
MT 4 1851-1939 (part indexed in MT 5)
PMG 56 1914-1928
PIN 15 1901-1997
PIN 26 c1916-c1971

Royal Navy Reserves

See the Your Archives page on Royal Navy

Apprentice Records

See the Your Archives page on Apprentice Records

Prisoners of War

See the Your Archives page on Prisoners of War: World War One and World War Two, Merchant Navy

Births, Marriages and Deaths at Sea

See the Your Archives page on Births, Marriages and Deaths at Sea

Merchant Marine Officers & Others

There are two principal types of certificate: Competency - obtained examination Service - obtained by virtue of experience. The introduction of qualifications began voluntarily in 1845 and became compulasory for Masters and Mates by 1850. As the nighteenth century progressed, other officers and men were required to gain certification. We have the indexes to the Cooks' certificates, some of whose registers are held at the National Maritime Musuem

BT 115 1845 - 1854 Alphabetical Register of Masters
BT 122 - BT 127 c1845 - c1921 Various Competency & Service
BT 128 1833 - 1934 Colonial Competency Certificates
BT 129 - BT 130 1880 - 1921 Registers of Certificates of Competency, Skippers and Mates of Fishing Boats
BT 138 1880 - 1917 Indexes to Registers of Certificates of Competency and Service, Skippers and Mates of Fishing Boats
BT 139 - BT 142 c1861 - 1921 Registers of Certificates of Competency, Engineers
BT 143 1845 - 1849 Miscellaneous Registers of Certificates of Competency and Service
BT 167 1702 - 1993 Precedent Books etc.
BT 317/1-7 1917 - 1977 Chronological registers of issue and reissue of certificates of competency
BT 319 1913 - 1956 Indexes to Registers of Cooks' Certificates of Competency and Service
BT 320 Registers of Passes and Renewals of Engineers' Certificates (Note: Not held by The National Archives these records are held by the National Maritime Museum)
BT 336 1893 - 1948 Changes of Master
BT 352 1910 - 1969 Indexes to Certificates of Competency, Masters, Mates, Engineers and Fishing Officers, Home and Foreign Trade
BT 396 1883 - 1959 Registers of Passes and Renewals of Skippers' and 2nd Hands' Certificates
CUST 70/188 1842 - 1854 Bristol: Transfer of ships or changes of Master

Medals Honours and Awards

See the Your Archives page on Medals For Gallantry At Sea

Miscellaneous Records and Further Reading

BT 277 contains specimens of Series of Documents Destroyed. These are held at Glamorgan Records Office

There are a large number of Research Guides available to download from The National Archives

KJ Smith, CT & MJ Watts, Records of Merchant Shipping and Seamen, (TNA)

Christopher & Michael Watts My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman , (Society of Genealogists)