Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy – 1915

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For the first time ever, the Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy from the year 1915 have been digitised and made available to search for free. Find relatives and loved ones via our database of over 39,000 crew lists, featuring over 750,000 names.

Search for a crew member

Search for a crew member in Ships Crew List Documents from 1915.
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Search for a vessel

Search for Crew List documents for a specific vessel from 1915.
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About the project

About the 1915 Project

In 2012, the National Archives and the National Maritime Museum began a project using volunteers to transcribe and make available online, all the surviving Merchant Navy crew lists from 1915. We would also like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Jan and Pete Owens at the Crew List Index Project without whose technical support and help this database would not have been possible.

As there are no records for individual merchant seafarers from this period, these records are of international significance in highlighting the vital contribution made by the Merchant Navy during the First World War. They are also of great value to family historians, as one of the few sources of information about seafaring ancestors active in 1915.

Approximately 39,000 crew lists featuring over 750,000 names were photographed and E-volunteers working on their home computer from as far afield as Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, France and Ireland, as well as the UK, transcribed these records to make them available and searchable online for the first time. This international effort demonstrates the global interest and demand for the information that these records contain and we thank all the volunteers involved.

Crew members on the deck of a ship

About the records

Crew lists (properly termed ‘Crew Agreements’) formed a contract between a seafarer and their employer. A seafarer signed on to serve for a defined period in the capacity (or rank) shown at the wages stated. Each agreement lists all the crew, their rank or rating, their address, rate of pay and dates of joining and leaving the ship. These range from small fishing boats and sailing barges, often crewed by father and son, to the largest passenger liners with whole departments of deck officers, seamen, engineering and victualling staff amounting to as many as 400 individuals. And it wasn’t just men! Women feature in the crew lists too, as stewards, nurses, matrons and many other capacities. Even vessels that were sunk by enemy action sometimes appear in the lists, if there was time to evacuate the ship and save its documents.

About the merchant navy

The term ‘British Merchant Navy’ was not formally adopted until 1928 when George V made the Prince of Wales ‘Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets’. The term however was in common usage well before then. We use this term because other terms such as ‘mercantile marine’ or ‘merchant service’ are more confusing. It is also important to note that by no means all sailors in vessels registered under the British flag were British. As has become clear during the indexing project, the crews originated from all over the world and on some vessels British nationals were in a minority.


What is a ‘master’ or a ‘second mate’?

In the Merchant Navy the captain of a ship was known as the ‘Master’. His second in command was the ‘first mate’ or simply ‘mate’. See the useful guide to Abbreviations in merchant seamen’s records on the National Archives website.

Why does the same name sometimes appear more than once in the search results?

Vessels in the ‘Home trade’ were employed around the coast of the United Kingdom and sometimes went to continental ports. Their masters submitted half-yearly crew agreements which contain details of the crew employed on several different voyages. Ships engaged in the ‘Foreign trade’ tended to make fewer, longer voyages so there may only be one crew list in the 1915 series. It’s important to note that crew lists are filed according to the date the voyage ended. Voyages than began in 1915 but didn’t end until 1916 would be filed in the 1916 crew lists.

What does ‘Previous vessel’ mean?

This simply means the last ship the seafarer was on before this one. Often this just says ‘SAME’ because they regularly worked on that ship. This category means you can research a seafarer’s career ‘backwards’ through earlier crew lists (see Where are all the other crew lists?).

What is an official number?

Beginning in 1857 every British registered ship was given an official number by the Board of Trade. Like the number plate on a car, it’s unique to that vessel and so the number can be crucial in distinguishing between two or more vessels which have the same name.

Where are all the other crew lists?

Not all crew lists have survived. A 10% sample of all Merchant Navy crew lists is kept at the National Archives (TNA) in Kew. The remaining 90% of crew Lists from 1861, 1862, 1865 and all later years ending with a five (1875, 1885, 1895 and so on up to 1995) are at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. From 1863 onwards, 90% of all other years are kept at the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland. Crew lists from the Second World War 1939-45 and from before 1861 (where they have survived) are at the National Archives. See the Crew List Research Guide for further information.

Where are the official log books?

Half-yearly crew agreements for vessels in the home trade include some log book entries, for example recording a death on board or lifeboat drills carried out by the crew. Where they were created as separate documents, all the surviving log books from 1914-1918 are in the BT 165 series at TNA. These log books were retained by the Board of Trade because they have details of casualties.

Are any women included in the crew lists?

In this period, most of the women in regular employment at sea were stewardesses, matrons or nurses. Sometimes women worked alongside their husbands in roles that had significant responsibility, most typically on traditional sailing barges.

What about lascars?

Lists of lascar seamen (Asiatic agreements) usually don’t feature in Board of Trade collections held by archives in the UK.

Are merchant vessels commissioned by the Admiralty included?

The crews of ships commissioned into the Royal Navy as armed merchant cruisers, patrol and escort vessels, etc. are not represented in these records. However, the civilian crews of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary are often included.

Is this my ancestor’s handwriting?

Maybe! Generally the lists are completed by the ship’s Master, as evident in the handwriting. However, individual seafarers normally had to sign the agreement. Occasionally you’ll see ‘X his mark’, denoting a seafarer who could not sign their name.

What if I can’t read it?

If you can’t read the crew list on a computer screen, you can always visit The National Archives or the National Maritime Museum to see the original documents. Staff will do their best to help you read some of the more difficult entries!

Some records show [...], what does that mean?

The [...] symbol is used when the volunteer transcriber could not read the hand writing in the original crew list. Using the same images, you may be able to!

Why are there no scanned images of some of the Crew List documents?

All the Crew List documents held by the National Maritime Museum were scanned and the images are available on this site. However we don’t have scanned images of the Crew List documents held by the National Archives (around 15% of the total), so for those documents we can’t display scanned images. You can contact The National Archives to request a copy of a crew list held there at:

Why can’t I see all the info for a document?

Sometimes information is missing from Crew List documents because the document wasn’t fully completed in 1915. In these cases the best we can do is display the information that’s present.

Want to know more?

What other records are there apart from crew lists? See the Research Guides for many more Merchant Navy Records.