Merchant Marine

Find information on this page about researching the records of people who served as crew members on merchant ships. The Merchant Marine consisted of individuals who served as crew members aboard merchant ships. During wartime, it was known as the Merchant Navy.

There are no employment files. Crew members of merchant vessels signed contracts, called articles of agreement, with the master of the vessel.

On this page

Before you start

Gather as much information about the person such as:

  • their approximate year of birth
  • the name of the ships they worked on
  • approximately when they worked as a merchant mariner

Places to look

There are also records relating to pilots. Pilots are experienced mariners with knowledge of local waters. They meet and board vessels to guide them safely through harbours and other difficult waterways. They are regulated by various Pilotage Authorities.

Wartime records for the Merchant Navy, 1939 to 1947 and 1951 to 1953, are held by the Merchant Navy Registry at Veterans Affairs Canada. Make an Access to Information request to VAC.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds these records:

Central Registry of Seamen, 1875-1983

These records consist of crew lists, articles of agreement, ships' logs and discharge registers (Record Groups 12 and 42). For a description of this series, click on the Scope and content of the Central Registry of Seamen. Then click on the 9 lower level descriptions to search for relevant archival references (RG12 or RG42, volume number, file number). The records themselves are not online and many have access restrictions.

Some items can be identified using Collection Search. Select Collections and fonds. In the search box, enter the keywords RG12, articles of agreement and the name of the ship. Other keywords to try are ship logs and/or crew lists. You can also do the same searches with the keyword RG42.

Lloyd's Captains Registers, 1851-1947

These registers are from the record of Certificates of Competency issued to masters and mates by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen in England. British authorities certified Canadian masters and mates before 1871. These records include their names.

LAC holds copies of the registers (MG40 O3, microfilm A-1838 to A-1897). They list details such as:

  • name
  • place and year of birth
  • certificate date and number
  • ship name and number

See the Scope and content section of the record description for a more detailed description.

Registers of Marine Certificates, 1871-1971

These registers contain details about the certificates issued by the Canadian government to marine officers (RG12-B5). They include:

  • certificates of competency and certificates of service for masters, mates and marine engineers
    • inland, coasting and sea-going vessels
  • examinations and certificate renewals
  • details such as date of name, certificate number, address, date and place of birth, examination and grade

In the record description, click on the lower level descriptions. Find the relevant register and make a note of the volume number and microfilm number. The T microfilm reels are digitized on the our partner website Héritage.

Marine Branch: pilot certificates

  • St. Lawrence river pilots' certificates, 1762 to 1840 (RG42 A-1-a, volumes 1 to 6)
  • Trinity House pilots' certificates, Montréal, 1832 (RG42 A-2, volume 8)
  • Marine certificates (RG42 C-4, volume 722) This volume includes 5 certificates for the pilotage district of Montréal and Québec (various dates).

These certificates are indexed by name in Collection Search. Enter the keywords RG42, a name and the word pilot.

Trinity House: pilots

Trinity House was established in 1805 for the regulation of pilots, navigation and shipping on the St. Lawrence River. This collection includes:

  • Liste des pilotes nommés par la Maison de la Trinité, Québec, 1805-1846 (MG8-A18, volume 5, pages 1 to 53) This list provides the name of each pilot and date of admission. In some cases, other details are included such as fines, suspensions and date of death.
  • List of licensed pilots with age and place of residence, 1802 (MG8-A18, volume 1, pages 56 to 59)

These records are not indexed by name.

Registrar General: Branch pilots

A Branch Pilot was a pilot who had a branch (commission) for special navigation. Copies of certificates are available in these volumes:

  • Branch pilots, 1805 to 1838 (RG68, volume 1, microfilm C-3950). The volume starts on image 306. An index of names starts on image 393.
  • Branch pilots, 1838 to 1867 (RG68, volume 2, microfilm C-3950). The volume and an index of names start on image 398.

Published sources

Search our Aurora catalogue for books about the merchant marine. Here are a few examples:

Access the records

Some of these records may be restricted. References in Collection Search show if a record is open (access code 90) or restricted (access code 32). To find the access code in an item description, click on Ordering and Viewing Options, then Conditions of access.

If the item is restricted, use the ATIP tool to request a copy.

For records that are not restricted and not digitized, you will need to see them in person. If you cannot visit us in person, you may want to order copies or hire a researcher.

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