How to look for records of... Officers in the Merchant Navy

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
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  • All

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This is a brief guide to researching records of officers in the Merchant Navy.

Until 1845 there was no system of registration of merchant navy officers, so records which might incidentally make mention of them must be used to trace them. After 1845, there are alphabetical registers and registers of certificates which might help.

You might also find information about the officer by searching the records of ordinary merchant seamen.

What do I need to know before I start?

In the merchant navy the term ‘officer’ can refer to a master, mate, engineer, fishing boat skipper, second hand or cook.

Officers were certificated either on passing an examination (a certificate of competency), or through long service (a certificate of service).

Try to find out:

  • the dates during which the officer served
  • the name of his ship
  • his ship’s official number (obtainable from the Crew List Index Project)

What records can I see online?

Alphabetical register of masters (1845-1854)

Search the alphabetical register (BT 115) on Findmypast (£) which was compiled from crew lists.
The registers follow a similar format to Registers of Seamen Tickets in BT 113. Read Merchant seamen up to 1857: further research for information about how to interpret the records.

Second World War Medals (1939-1945)

Search and download (£) records of World War Two Medals issued to Merchant Seamen (BT 395).

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Registers of certificates of competency and service (1845-1921)

Look for a certificate entry in the registers. The registers of certificates are in the following series:

Combined indexes to certificates of competency (1910-1969)

Search BT 352, a combined index to masters, mates, engineers and fishing officers certificates of competency covering home and foreign trade.

Merchant Navy gallantry awards for the Second World War (1939-1947)

Search Discovery, our catalogue, by name of person or ship in T 335 to find what the award was, the person’s rank at the time, and the ship they were serving on.

Narrow your search by using double quotation marks to find a ship’s or person’s full name, such as “Sydney Star” or “John Williams”.

Chronological registers of the issue of certificates (1913-1984)

Consult registers and renewals of certificates of competency of masters and mates in BT 317, masters, mates and engineers in BT 318 and fishing officers in BT 396.

Registers of merchant seamen after 1913

Find voyage details of officers within registers of seamen from 1913 onwards and seaman’s pouches (BT 372).

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Registers of certificates of competency and service (1850-1927)

Apply for a copy of a certificate from the National Maritime Museum’s Caird Library – you will need the certificate number.

Agreements and crew lists (1861-1994)

Look at the websites of other archives and organisations which hold agreements and crew lists, including the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland, the National Maritime Museum, the National Records of Scotland, the National Archives of Ireland, and local archives.

What other resources will help me find information?


Visit the Crew List Index Project (CLIP) website, which has information about merchant seamen on British registered ships from 1861 to 1913.

Search indexes to crew lists from 1861 to 1913 by name on findmypast (£).


Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Read My ancestor was a merchant seaman, by Christopher and Michael Watts (Society of Genealogists, 2002).

Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 93