Merchant Navy material from the Maritime Archives and Library
Registration of seafarers began because of a need to identify men that could be called upon to serve in the Royal Navy when required and was then expanded as efforts were made to improve their conditions and collect funds to support seafarers when out of work. There were a few false starts as early administrative systems were overwhelmed by the growth of the British merchant fleet and some records have been lost over time, but the central government records, held at the National Archives, are an incredibly useful and rich resource. The seafarers side of the administration resulted in the holding of a Discharge Certificate of some type. These documents can often be found within personal papers and provide a key to unlocking their working lives.
Certificates of Discharge were introduced following the Merchant Shipping Act, 1854, which required a Certificate of Discharge and Character to be signed by both the seafarer and the master at the end of each voyage. Originally individual paper certificates that were issued when signing off from each voyage, they were eventually replaced by the Continuous Certificate of Discharge, a passport sized, hard backed book, usually with a blue cover, that could record many individual voyages.