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United States Merchant Marine Research Guide

Maritime Administration Records at the National Archives

The Records of the Maritime Administration (MARAD), and its predecessor agencies are held by the National Archives and Records Administration College Park, Maryland, in Record Group 357. Records related to MARAD and predecessor agencies, include: 

  • Records of the U.S. Shipping Board, Record Group 32;
  • Records of the U.S. Maritime Commission, Record Group 178;
  • Records of the War Shipping Administration, Record Group 248;
  • Record copies of publications of the Maritime Administration in Record Group 287, Publications of the U.S. Government;
  • Records of the Federal Maritime Commission, Record Group 358.

For more information on how to access these records, visit the: National Archives and Records Administration.

Logbooks of United States Merchant Vessels

The National Archives and Records Administration holds logbooks from merchant vessels. Official logbooks were required for all foreign voyages under legislation enacted in 1872. Coastal voyages filed logbooks when a birth or death occurred during a voyage. Merchant vessels submitted Logbooks to the Office of Shipping Commissioners.

Official logbooks held by the National Archives document the following information and events:

  • Vessel name;
  • Vessel’s homeport;
  • Vessel’s official number;
  • Master's name;
  • Names and ratings of the crew;
  • Inclusive dates and voyage destinations;
  • Accounts of births, deaths, and marriages;
  • Infractions of the rules during the voyage
  • Illnesses, and the engagement or discharge of crew members during the voyage;
  • Record of the money advanced to individual seamen at ports along the way for items such as clothing and cigarettes from the "slop chest."

Logbooks are arranged by port, there either chronologically, then by name of vessel, or a combination of both.

Logbooks from 1872-1941 are found in the Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation (Record Group 41) located at the National Archives in Washington, DC

Logbooks beginning in 1939 to the late 20th century are located in the Records of the United States Coast Guard (RG 26) and can normally be found in the regions closest to the ship’s last port.

NARA also holds some Merchant Marine Ship's logs dating from 1918 to 1941, in the Records of the U.S. Maritime Commission (RG 178, NC-5 Entry 115).

During and after World War I, the U.S. Shipping Board maintained records of the Emergency Fleet Corporation (later the Merchant Fleet Corporation). These records include the merchant logbooks for government owned and operated vessels. The following types of logs are included:

  • Chief officers;
  • Engineers;
  • Deck departments;
  • Engine room.

These logbooks are located at the National Archives at College Park.

Some merchant vessel logs can also be found in the National Archives, Records of the Office of Naval Records and Library (Record Group 45). For more information visit: description and list of logs included in Record Group 45. 

Records of the Naval Armed Guard

During WWII, members of the U.S. Navy served as Naval Armed Guards aboard merchant vessels. The Naval Armed Guard Commanding Officer prepared a written report after every voyage. These reports are found at the National Archives and Record Administration, General Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24.2.2 Logs: Operational and signal logs of U.S. Navy armed guard units aboard merchant vessels, 1943-45).

The National Archives also holds records of the United States Navy’s Tenth Fleet. Included in these records are movement report cards for the merchant ships that Naval Armed Guard served on. The movement report cards list:

  • Ports of call;
  • Dates of the visit;
  • Convoy designation, if the ship sailed in a convoy;
  • Port where each voyage ended.

For these vessel movement cards, see the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38.2.4 Records relating to U.S. Navy operations received from the Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center: Records of the Tenth Fleet, Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, 1939-45)

These movement cards can assist researchers in locating the logs of the merchant ships, and convoys, which are held at the nearest records center to the U.S. port where each voyage ended. Folders for each convoy usually contain:

  • A list of merchant ships in the convoy;
  • A list of escort ships in the convoy;
  • Report of the convoy commodore;
  • Map of the route;
  • Convoy message traffic.

Merchant Marine Bibliography

For a list of published works describing the history of the United States merchant marine visit MARAD's: United States Merchant Marine History Bibliography.

Further Questions

If you still have questions, you can contact the National Archive and Records Administration; or submit your question to