Did your ancestor live on the open seas as part of the Merchant Navy? Were they master of a ship, a deck hand or the cook in the galley? Explore these crew lists and agreements from archives and record offices across England and Wales. Over 157,000 of the 570,000 records in this set include images of original documents. The records include many born throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and further abroad. Furthermore, the records include the names of over 700 Lascars from Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

These records come from a variety of sources and archives. Therefore the information available will not be the same in every record. You may find a combination of the following facts:

  • Name and age
  • Birth year and birth place
  • Event Year
  • Role – position on the vessel
  • Vessel name
  • From and to date – these dates refer to the time the individual spent employed on this vessel
  • Ticket number
  • Previous port and vessel – the name of the vessel on which the individual was last employed and the port where they were last discharged
  • Previous vessel year
  • Indenture date and port
  • Made mark
  • Vessel official number - the official number for that ship. A unique ‘official number’ was given to each newly registered vessel from 1855 and remained with her throughout her existence. Most of the large repositories use a ship’s official number, rather than her name, as a reference.
  • Vessel registration port
  • Port registry year and number
  • Vessel type
  • Horsepower
  • Number of seamen
  • Gross and net tonnage
  • Log book
  • Master's name and address
  • Master made mark
  • Master's ticket number
  • Owner's name and address
  • Owner made mark
  • Record source
  • Archive reference

Discover more about these records

The Merchant Navy is a private organisation of commercial and trading ships. It was not regulated by the government until the nineteenth century. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1835, replaced Muster books with agreements and crew lists which were filed at the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (previously known as the Register Office of Merchant Seamen). The title, Merchant Navy, was given to the service after the First World War by King George V, in recognition of their maintenance of trade during the war and assisting with civilian’s dependence for raw materials and food. They also helped to transport soldiers.

The crew lists and agreements in this collection come from a number of depositories including The National Archives, National Maritime Museum and various local archives and county record offices. These records include agreements from both home trade and foreign trade ships. Home trade ships submitted agreements twice a year and the foreign trade ship agreements were only submitted at the end of a voyage. Therefore, if your ancestor was on home trade ships you could find them on a number of agreements, but those on foreign trade ships may have gaps in years. They do not cover the Royal Navy or provide details of passengers. These lists may be particularly useful in identifying the whereabouts of men missing on the censuses or between census years. During the First World War ships and crew were taken as Prisoners of War.

Part of these records are created from the Crew List Index Project (CLIP), which aims to improve access to the records of British merchant seamen for the late nineteenth century by indexing records from local record offices throughout the UK. The task is ongoing, and volunteer transcribers and checkers are encouraged to get involved. A crew list holds the details of every crew member on board a British merchant ship.

A ship that sailed in British coastal waters completed a crew list every six months. If a vessel sailed outside of British waters then a document called a crew agreement was completed for each voyage.

Crew members include a wide variety of professions, such as deckhands, engine staff, stewards, nurses and maids. The crew lists are only for British merchant ships.

The records document the employment of each member of the crew. Individuals would ‘sign on’ when they began their employment, either at the start of the voyage, or when they joined the ship at one of its ports of call. They ‘signed off’ at the end of the voyage or, if they chose not to finish, at a port of call.


Lascars is a term used by Europeans usually to refer to Indian seamen who served on British ships; however, it has been used for other Asian, African and other foreign seamen. We can discover Lascars by their recorded **Role** on the vessel. Large numbers of Lascars were contracted for British ships because of their knowledge of the local area and skills. However, they were usually paid less than the British seamen employed and were often treated poorly. The life of a Lascar is described in the historic novel * Sea of Poppies* by Amitav Ghosh.

The Navigation Act of 1660 restricted the employment of non-English seamen. This act meant that many Lascars who arrived in England from India could not be re-employed on a British ship back to India, therefore they were abandoned and left to fend for themselves. It was repealed in 1849. Over the years, this practice led to the creation of specialised hostels, seamen’s homes and charitable organisations. Many of the seamen who were stranded in England began to settle, create their own communities and became part of British society. By the 1890s an estimated 12,000 Lascars had settled in Britain.

Some of the Roles for Lascars were recorded differently than those of British seamen. Below is a list of some of the different roles.

Lascars British equivalent
First Class Lascar Able Seaman
Second Class Lascar Ordinary Seaman
Seacunny Quartermaster
Serang Bosun or Boatswain
Tindal Bosun’s Mate
Engine room 
Tindal Donkeyman
Butler Second Steward
Bhandary Cook
Masalchi Galley assistant