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Seafaring is a dangerous occupation and ships and their cargos are valuable commodities, so it is important that those in charge of vessels know what they are doing. In 1845 examinations for masters and mates were introduced, voluntary at first and then becoming compulsory and expanding to cover engineers and other crew members.
As with the registration of seafarers, the formalisation and administration resulted in records being kept and certificates issued. Certificates of Competency were issued as a result of examinations, but some people qualified as a consequence of length of service before examinations were introduced and were issued with Certificates of Service.
The certificates issued to the seafarers were an important proof of the qualifications needed to get a job, so they were kept safe and can often be found in personal papers. More records and information about the holder of the certificate can often be found at the National Archives and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, see our information sheet on tracing seafaring ancestors for further details.
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