The Maritime Administration (MARAD) and its predecessor agencies, the U.S. Maritime Commission, the War Shipping Administration and the United States Shipping Board, have built, owned, operated, or subsidized thousands of merchant vessels, especially during the two world wars. A large portion of these vessels have been ships that, at some point during their careers, were in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF).
Section 11 of the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946 established the NDRF to serve as a reserve of ships for national defense and national emergencies. At its height in 1950, the NDRF consisted of 2,277 ships at the following eight anchorages: Stony Point, New York; Fort Eustis, Virginia; Wilmington, North Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; Beaumont, Texas; Benicia, California; Astoria, Oregon; and Olympia, Washington.
In addition to berthed vessels in the NDRF, the agency also owned and chartered active commercial vessels and subsidized the construction and operation of privately-owned vessels. More recently, MARAD has supported the operation of U.S.-flag commercial vessels through the Maritime Security Program.
Vessel History Database
You can learn more about the 12,000-plus ships owned, operated, or subsidized by MARAD and its predecessor agencies in the MARAD Vessel History Database.
This database includes vessel characteristics, images of vessel status cards, and, for select vessels, photographs, milestones and narrative histories.
Documentation of Historic Vessels
MARAD often documents historic NDRF vessels in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and to ensure that a record of their legacy remains after they are recycled.
You can see examples of these documentation projects below:
- Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Surveys of NDRF Vessels
- Panoramic photo tour of USNS Comet, which is considered to be the first purpose-built ocean-going Roll-on/Roll-of vessel.
- Panoramic photo tour of GTS Admiral William M. Callaghan‘s machinery space. The ship was the first to use a General Electric LM-2500 gas-turbine engine for propulsion.
- Panoramic photo tour of NS Savannah, on the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association’s web site.
National Defense Reserve Fleet Anchorages
Today, the NDRF consists of three of its eight original anchorages located at Fort Eustis on the James River in Virginia; Beaumont, Texas; and Suisun Bay in Benicia, California. In addition to maintaining a fleet of active and inactive ships, the Maritime Administration is the Federal governments disposal agent for Federally-owned obsolete, merchant-type vessels and naval auxiliaries that are equal to or greater than 1,500 gross tons. Todays fleet includes both retention and non-retention vessels, and primarily consists of dry cargo ships with some tankers and military auxiliaries.
You can learn more about the three active fleet anchorages below: