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.
To trace a seaman before the Second World War, you must know the name of the vessel on which he served so that you can locate and search relevant articles of agreements and ships' logs, which usually include crew lists. Additional registers are available for masters, mates and steam engineers.
Resources at Library and Archives Canada
Central Registry of Seamen, 1875 to 1983 (RG12 and RG42)
These records consist of crew lists, articles of agreement and ships' logs. For a description of the collection, see Central Registry of Seamen (Mikan 133876) . For more information, there is a link on that page to 9 lower level descriptions. The records themselves are not online.
Some references to file titles can be identified using Archives Search. Enter the keywords RG12 articles of agreement and the name of the ship. Also try the same search using the keywords ships logs and also the keywords crew lists. You can also do the same searches with the keyword RG42.
If you find a reference, please see our Access the records page to find out what options are available.
The contents of each sub-series are listed in finding aids, some of which are only available onsite in paper format. If you cannot find a reference to a particular ship and year in Archives Search, you can request assistance on our Ask us a question form.
If you are looking for your own records, see Peacetime records from 1948 onwards.
Registers of Marine Certificates, 1871 to 1971 (RG12 B5)
These registers list the marine certificates issued to officers (masters, mates and marine engineers). They include details such as date of examination, certificate number, address, date and place of birth, etc.
See Registers of Marine Certificates, 1871 to 1971
Lloyd's Captains Registers, 1851 to 1947 (MG40 O3)
These registers were compiled from the record of Certificates of Competency issued to masters and mates by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen in England. Before 1871, Canadian masters and mates were certified by British authorities, so their names are included in these records.
The registers list details such as name, place and year of birth, certificate date and number, ship name and number, etc. See Mikan 27563 for a more detailed description of the records.
The originals were held at the Guildhall Library in London, England, but are now at the London Metropolitan Archives. See Lloyds of London Captains Registers and related sources, Research Guide 50.
A partial name index is available on the following websites:
Library and Archives Canada holds copies of those registers on microfilm reels from A-1838 to A-1897. Those reels must be consulted on site. You can visit LAC in person or hire a local researcher to search them for you. See Access the records.
Resources for other maritime employment
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.
Names of pilots were often mentioned in published government reports. Many of those old publications are digitized online. Try a Google search using quotation marks around search phrases, examples:
- "Pilotage Authority" "Elias King"
- "Moise Pouliot" "pilot"
- "Trinity House" "pilot" "Germain Marquis"
Library and Archives Canada holds the following records:
Marine Branch (RG42)
- St. Lawrence river pilots' certificates, 1762 to 1840 (RG42 A-1-a, volumes 1 to 6)
- Trinity House pilots' certificates, Montreal, 1832 (RG42 A-2, volume 8)
- Marine certificates (RG42 C-4, volume 722)
This volume includes five pilot certificates and apprentice pilot certificates for the pilotage district of Montreal and Québec.
For these RG42 series, the documents are indexed by name in Archives Search. Enter the keywords RG42, a name and the word pilot. If you find a reference, see our Access the records page for options. The records are not available online.
Trinity House (MG8 A18)
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 (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 (volume 1, pages 56 to 59)
The records are not indexed and not available online. See our Access the records page for options.
For a brief history of Trinity House see Maison de la Trinité de Québec (in French only).
Registrar General (RG68)
This fonds includes two volumes of copies of certificates issued to Branch Pilots, 1838 to 1867. A Branch Pilot was a pilot who had a branch (commission) for special navigation. The records are digitized:
- 1805 to 1838, volume 1, microfilm C-3950. The volume starts on image 306. An index of names starts on image 393.
- 1838 to 1867, volume 2, microfilm C-3950. The volume and an index of names start on image 398.
How to access Library and Archives Canada records
For records that are not digitized, see our Access the records page for available options.
Wartime records for the Merchant Navy, 1939 to 1947 and 1951 to 1953, are held by:
Merchant Navy Registry
Veterans Affairs Canada
PO Box 7700
Charlottetown, PE C1A 8M9
Peacetime records from 1948 to the present
Records of the merchant marine used to be maintained by the Central Registry of Seafarers at Transport Canada. That Registry no longer exists. Those records (crew lists, ships' logs and articles of agreement, 1948 to 1983) were transferred to Library and Archives Canada. See Central Registry of Seamen.
For records after 1983, Transport Canada explains that the responsibility for maintaining seafarer records has shifted to the seafarers and the authorized representatives. For information about the changes and where seafarers can obtain their own records, see Seafarers' Registry, Contributions and Marine Emergency Duties (MED) Divestiture Programs
Maritime History Archive
The Maritime History Archive holds many records relating to the Canadian and British merchant marine, including:
- Crew lists
- Crew agreements
- Log books
- Lloyd's Captains' Registers
- Vessel registers
- Sources relating to shipwrecks
- Sources relating to ship captains
- Other manuscripts and published sources
- Surname index to Ships and Seafarers of Atlantic Canada CD
Other archives and resources
When researching a merchant mariner, keep in mind that many Canadians worked on British and American registered vessels.
- Des bateaux et des hommes en Nouvelle-France, 1634-1760 : pardevant les notaires royaux by Magdeleine A. Bourget
- Directory of names, pennant numbers, and addresses of all members of the Ship Masters' Association of the Great Lakes, 1920
- Le Saint-Laurent et ses pilotes, 1805-1860 by Jean Leclerc
- In All Respects Ready, The Merchant Navy and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1940-1945 by Frederick B. Watt
- Men and ships in the Canada trade, 1660-1760: a biographical dictionary by John Francis Bosher
- Running the gauntlet: an oral history of Canadian merchant seamen in World War II by Mike Parker
- Ships and memories: merchant seafarers in Canada's age of steam by Eric W. Sager
- The Unknown Navy. Canada's World War II Merchant Navy by Robert G. Halford