Buying a ship plan

Access to the Historic Photographs and Ship Plans

From July 2015 curators at the Historic Photographs and Ship Plans Section will be working on our exciting HLF-funded Endeavour Project. Access to the department will be by appointment only, for two pre-arranged days a week. Please provide two weeks’ notice of your visit by emailing We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

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The National Maritime Museum looks after the largest single collection of original ships plans in the world. View ship plans in Collections online.

Rover (1832)A plan of the method used to fix the sprung main mast for Rover, an 18-gun flush-deck Ship Sloop, while off the Falkland Islands, 28 May 1836. Repro ID: J0136 ©NMM, Greenwich, London The one million plans date from the early 18th century to the present day, and form a unique and authentic primary source for both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. The collection also includes plans for foreign vessels taken during time of war, and vessels purchased into the Royal Navy. About 1000 of the plans have so far been digitised and are available to view online.

In addition to the plans, there is a large technical archive, mainly concerning Royal Naval vessels. These include ships covers, ships books, and contracts and specifications, as well as other miscellaneous Department of Naval Construction material.

Enquiring into the collection

The size of the collection means that it will be a long while until it is fully catalogued online for public access. Moreover, we are unable to undertake research on anything other than the collections themselves: see the publication list at the end for a useful guide.

Plan of Swan, Tavistock, Falcon, Badger, Hornet, Hound, Raven and ScorpionPlan showing the body plan, sheer lines, and longitudinal half-breadth for Swan (1745), Tavistock (1745), Falcon (1745), Badger (1745), Hornet(1745), Hound(1745), Raven (1745) and Scorpion (1745), 24 October 1744. Signed J. E. Ackworth [Surveyor of the Navy, 1715–1749]. Repro ID: J0144 ©NMM, Greenwich, LondonBefore sending an enquiry to the Historic Photographs and Ship Plans Section, researchers must ensure all relevant information is provided, for instance:

  • The name (or names) of the vessel.
  • Date of launch/register of the vessel: for merchant ships consult Lloyd’s Register of Shipping or Mercantile Navy List; for warships consult Colledge, J The Royal Navy.
  • The builder: if known consult the National Register of Archives to check whether the builder’s archive has survived, and where it is. This will focus your research to the relevant museum, library or archive.

All enquiries to the Historic Photographs and Ship Plans Section must include a postal address. Please contact:

Historic Photographs and Ship Plans Section
National Maritime Museum
London SE10 9NF

Obtaining copies

  • Due to limited resources, the size of the collection, and the length of the plans themselves, only small proportion of the ships plans have been digitised. A selection of these can be found on Collections Online, and more will be added as catalogued. Colour copies and prints of these plans can be ordered through the Picture Library.
  • If the plan you are looking for is already digitised it should be available via our print on demand service and you can search our print sales website.

Research into collections

  • Swift (1721)Plan showing the body plan, sheer lines with colour wash and decorations and scroll figurehead, and longitudinal half-breadth for Swift, a Snow-rigged two-masted Sloop. Repro ID: J0151 ©NMM, Greenwich, London For private research that takes longer than 15 minutes, it is Museum policy to charge £21.28 (ex VAT) for the first hour and £12.77 (ex VAT) per 15 minutes thereafter.
  • Research for a commercial researcher/client is charged at a rate of £51.06 (ex VAT) for the first hour, and then £12.77 (ex VAT) per 15 minutes thereafter.
  • Additional fees may apply depending upon usage, and any usage that is not private research must be agreed with the Museum beforehand.

Note: If a research fee has been paid, the handling fee will be waived.

Recommended publications

Below is a selection of publications that are frequently consulted by the curators of the Historic Photographs and Ship Plans Section. They are of great value when researching topics and subjects related to the ships plans collection.

  • Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1860–1905 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1979)
  • Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906–1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985)
  • Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922–1946 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1980)
  • Beeler, J F, Birth of the Battleship: British Capital Ship Design 1870–1881 (Chatham Publishing, 2001)
  • Brown, D K, Before the Ironclad: Development of Ship Design, Propulsion and Armament in the Royal Navy, 1815–1860 (London: Conway Maritime, 1990)
  • Brown, D K, Warrior to Dreadnought: Warship Development 1860–1905 (Chatham Publishing, 1997)
  • Chapelle, H I, The Search for Speed under Sail 1700–1855 (New York: W W Norton, 1967)
  • Chapelle, H I, The History of the American Sailing Navy: the Ships and their Development (New York: W W Norton, 1949)
  • Friedman, N, British Destroyers and Frigates: the Second World War and After (Chatham, 2006)
  • Friedman, N, British Destroyers: From Earliest Days to the Second World War (Seaforth, 2009)
  • Friedman, N, Battleship: Design and Development 1905–1945 (Conway Maritime, 1978)
  • Friedman, N, British Carrier Aviation: the Evolution of the Ships and their Aircraft (Conway Maritime, 1988)
  • Gardiner, R, Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars (Chatham Publishing, 2000)
  • Goodwin, P, The Construction and Fitting of the Sailing Man of War, 1600–1850 (Conway Maritime Press, 1987)
  • Lambert, J, Allied Coastal Forces of World War II (Conway Maritime Press, 1990–03)
  • Lavery, B, The Ship of the Line, vol II: Design, Construction and Fittings (Conway Maritime Press, 1997)
  • Lavery, B, The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600–1815 (Conway Maritime Press, 1987)
  • Lavery, B, Stephens, S, Ship models: Their Purpose and Development from 1650 to the Present (London: Zwemmer, 1995)
  • Lyon, D, The Sailing Navy List (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1993): lists the Admiralty plans mostly held by the NMM.
  • Lyon, D, Winfield, R, The Sail and Steam Navy List: all the Ships of the Royal Navy 1815–1889 (London: Chatham, 2004): useful for ship histories and technical details.
  • Mannering, J (Ed) Inshore Craft (Chatham Publishing, 1997, reprinted 2008 by Seaforth): illustrated with plans held by the NMM.
  • McGregor, D, Fast Sailing Ships: their Design and Construction (Conway Maritime Press, 1973, 1988)
  • Raven, A and Roberts, J, British Cruisers of World War II (Maryland Naval Institute Press, 1980)
  • Ritchie (Ed) The Shipbuilding Industry: a Guide to Historical Records (Manchester University Press, 1992): paper version of Register of National Archives.
  • Various authors, Anatomy of the Ship series (Conway Maritime Press, various dates)
  • Various authors, Blueprint series (Conway Maritime Press, various dates)
  • Winfield, R, The 50-gun Ship (Chatham Publishing, 1997)
  • Winfield, R, British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1660–1714 (Seaforth Publishing, 2009): useful for ship histories and technical details.
  • Winfield, R, British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1714–1792 (Seaforth Publishing, 2007): useful for ship histories and technical details.
  • Winfield, R, British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793–1817 (Chatham Publishing, 2005): useful for ship histories and technical details.