This guide gives a brief introduction to the Board of Trade's official list of all British registered ships.
The Mercantile Navy List, compiled by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, was first published from 1849 to 1855, and annually thereafter from 1857 until 1976 (with supplements up to the end of 1977); excluding 1941 to 1946, during the Second World War. Monthly supplements were issued under various titles from 1886.
As the official, comprehensive listing of all merchant vessels registered under the British flag, it is one of the most important reference tools for anyone researching the history of British merchant shipping, and includes many ships not listed in its nearest equivalent, Lloyd's Register.
It provides basic information on each ship, which can be used to trace other records and to compile an outline history of a ship and its owners. Early volumes also include useful appendices, such as lists of pilots, receivers of wreck, and obituaries, and records of awards and testimonials for services at sea.
Although a basic reference source, it is considerably rarer than Lloyd’s Register or other equivalent series, such as the (Royal) Navy List. Only a few near-complete sets exist; even the British Library set is missing two volumes. The National Maritime Museum editions cover the period from 1857 to 1976.
The Mercantile Navy List provides a comprehensive index to ships' official numbers from 1849 to 1976, and an index to certificates of competency up to 1864.
The same numbering system is used for crew lists and certificates held at The National Archives and in other repositories, making the Mercantile Navy List a primary resource for searching maritime records.
Other guides which may be useful for researching the Merchant Navy are:
- Research guide C1: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs
- Research guide C2: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Master mariners, mates and engineers
- Research guide C4: The Merchant Navy: Sources for enquiries
- Research guide C5: The Merchant Navy: Sources for ship histories
- Research guide C6: The Merchant Navy: The Mercantile Navy List
- Research guide C8: The Merchant Navy: Wrecks, losses and casualties
- Research guide C9: The Merchant Navy: World War One
- Research guide C10: The Merchant Navy: World War Two
- Research guide C12: The Merchant Navy: Ship registration and Custom House records
- Research guide H1: Lloyd's: Lloyd's List: Brief history
- Research guide H3: Lloyd's: Lloyd's Captains' register
- Research guide H4: Lloyd's: Lloyd's List indexes
- Research guide H5: Lloyd's: Registers held at the National Maritime Museum
- Research guide H6: Lloyd's: Lloyd's Register survey reports
For general research help see:
- Research guide A2: Principal records for maritime research at the National Maritime Museum
- Research guide A3: Tracing family history from maritime records
Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.