Illustration of member of the Coastguard looking through a telescope, 1907 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/511/276)

This is a brief guide to help you with your research. The National Archives holds all surviving records of Coastguards. These are in several different series, mainly within the ADM and CUST department records. There is no single index of people or places that can be used to find service records, so your search for information might require some patience.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • in which county the person was posted
      • the dates of his service
  • What records can I see online?

    • Coastguard establishment books and registers (1816-1947)

      Browse and download the Coastguard establishment books and registers in ADM 175 free from our website.

      These records are not comprehensive, and their covering dates vary.

      They include:

      • establishment books in ADM 175/1-26 (1816-1918) - you will need to know where the officer was posted
      • registers of appointments for England in ADM 175/74-80 (1819-1862); for Ireland in ADM 175/74ADM 175/99 and ADM 175/100 (1819-1849); and for Scotland in ADM 175/74 (1851-1856)
      • record cards for coastguard ratings in ADM 175/82A-84B (1900-1923)
      • discharge registers in ADM 175/91-96 (1919)
      • discharge records from 1858 to 1868 in ADM 175/102 (1855-1868)
      • indexed service registers for coastguard officers in ADM 175/103-107, 109-111 (1896-1929)

      Please be aware that these are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection.

    • Campaign medals (1914-1918)

      Search (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) for campaign medal for coastguards (ADM 171) who qualified for medals.

      Alternatively browse and download campaign medals (ADM 171) on digital microfilm from our website.

      Please be aware that these are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection.

    • Parliamentary papers

      Consult Parliamentary Papers for published reports of coastguard activities. They can be searched online from subscribing organisations.

      Reports can give details of coastguards such as name, age and date of appointment.

      Search by year and sessional paper number:

      • House of Commons sessional papers 1819 (569) XVII, 77 for a return of officers and men appointed to the Preventative Boat Service between 1816 and 1819
      • House of Commons sessional papers 1823 (94) XIV, 293 for Names of Commanders of Revenue Cruisers in Scotland 1822-1823
      • House of Commons sessional papers 1825 (95) VXIII, 385 for names of men killed on the Kent and Sussex coast conflicts between Coast Blockage and smugglers
      • House of Commons sessional papers 1833 (744) XXIV, 285 for a return of Captains and Commanders in the Preventative or Coastguard Service and Revenue Cruisers on 1 July 1833
      • House of Commons sessional papers 1857 XXVII, 253 for returns and allowances of all Chief Officers of the Coastguard with previous service


  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Records held locally

      Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Websites

      Search the name index of British Coastguards from 1841 to 1901 on the GENUKI website.

    • Books

      Search The National Archives' bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives' library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

      W Webb, Coastguard: An official history of HM Coastguard (HMSO, 1976)

      NAM Rodger, Naval records for genealogists (1988)

      Consult the Navy Lists for information about officers serving in Revenue Cruisers (part of the Coastguard since 1822) available in research libraries.

Did you know?

The Coastguard was formed in 1822 by the amalgamation of three services set up to prevent smuggling:

  • the Revenue Cruisers
  • the Riding Officers
  • the Preventive Water Guard

In 1831 the Coastal Blockade also became part of the Coastguard.

From 1822 several different departments were responsible for the Coastguards, so Coastguard records are widely scattered in The National Archives.

After 1856 the duties of the Coastguard were defending the coast, providing a reserve for the Royal Navy, and preventing smuggling.

In 1925 the focus shifted towards saving lives, salvaging wrecks and supervising the foreshores.

The establishment books (in ADM 175) used the following abbreviations for coastguard ranks:

  • chf officer = chief officer
  • boatn = boatman
  • chf btman = chief boatman
  • permt extn = permanent extraman
  • comd bn = commissioned boatman
  • tempoy exn = temporary extraman