Seafarers’ certificates

Online exhibition

Merchant Navy Day is celebrated on 3 September, to commemorate the contribution the merchant navy has made, and continues to make, to Britain.  This online exhibition highlights some of the certificates commonly found in the personal papers of seafarers which can be of use to the family and maritime historian.

By comparison with other professions, seafarers working lives are well documented.  The merchant navy was vitally important to the British Empire and this meant that successive governments sought to record its numbers and ensure its quality.  This interest meant that seafarers of all levels were issued with paperwork that other jobs didn't require or receive.  As these certificates were so important, for proof of service and capabilities, seafarers held onto them and, therefore, they often survive amongst family and personal papers.  They are revealing documents in their own right and can also offer a starting point for exploring other sources. For further details on tracing seafaring ancestors see our information sheets and frequently asked questions.