The Central Index Register of Merchant Seamen is a collection of over a million and a quarter merchant navy service record cards. It has details of people serving on board British registered ships between 1918 and 1941. 

The register tells us the name, date and place of birth of a seafarer. It gives their rating, discharge number and details of any certificates they hold (for example, master or mates certificates). Sometimes it  has a physical description of the mariner, even down to details of their tattoos. One part of the register, which covers 1918 to 1921, includes a passport-style photograph of the seafarer. And has details of a mariner's dates of engagement or discharge on board particular vessels.

As well as British seafarers, the register also has service details of foreign merchant seamen serving on board British registered ships. All sections of a ship's crew are included - deck crew, engine crew and victualing crew. Most of the register includes both men and women. Unfortunately the part of the register which has photographs (called CR10 cards) does not usually include women.

Some seafarers cannot be found in the register, this might be because:

  • If a seaman continued to serve after 1941 his records have usually been transferred to the next register (the 5th Register of Merchant Seamen) which is held at the National Archives, Kew
  • The seaman's records may be amongst the cards which were destroyed in the 1960s

You can use the register in the reading room of Southampton Archives or at the National Archives at Kew, which has a copy of it on microfiche. If you do not wish to or can't come in person we offer a research service. The service will cost £15 per surname for up to 3 individuals of the same surname. For more information, please email city.archives@southampton.gov.uk.