Qualifications and Competency Certificates

Online exhibition 

Merchant Navy material from the Maritime Archives and Library

Certificate of Competency as Master of a Foreign-Going Ship (often known as a Master's Ticket) issued to Reginald Lloyd, 17 April 1903 (DX/852). Certificate of Competency as Master of a Foreign-Going Ship issued to Cecil William Counsell Parry, 23 December 1925 (DX/899). Originally a large linen backed certificate designed to be folded and stored in a metal container for safety, certificates of competency later became similar in design to a discharge book. Certificate of Competency as Second Mate issued to George Freemantle, 13 March 1867 (DX/1841).George Freemantle was part of the crew of the Confederate raider 'Alabama', and his certificate of discharge from that vessel can be seen in our online exhibition Liverpool and the American Civil War. Certificate of Competency as First Class Engineer issued to William Henry Puxley, 12 August 1904 (DX/367). As steam power took over from sail, ship's engineers emerged as a new professional member of the crew and examinations for engineers were introduced in 1862. Certificate of Competency in Cooking (DX/1530).Registration for ship's cooks was introduced under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906, a testimony of the importance of the role and the demoralising and potentially inflammatory results of an incompetent ship's cook.  A number of cookery schools appeared in major ports to offer training. First class certificate of proficiency in radiotelegraphy issued by the Postmaster-General to William Keanes, 1923 (DX/1501).Radio officers, like engineers before them, were another new profession that appeared in ship's crews.  Qualification certificates were important to prove their skills because they were often employed via a telecommunications company like Marconi.  Shipowners needed to know they were getting a competent radio operator. Certificate of Efficiency as Lifeboatman issued to Cecil F Lock, 7 April 1933 (DX/259).The difficulties of launching and sailing lifeboats was a contributory factor in the high loss of life at sea.  Lifeboat training, with an associated certificate as proof of competency, was an attempt to improve the process.

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.