Logbooks of US Merchant Vessels
Official Logbooks within in the holdings of the National Archives document the name, home port and official number of the vessel; the master's name; the names and ratings of the crew; the inclusive dates and destinations of the voyage; accounts of births, deaths, marriages, infractions of the rules, illnesses, and the engagement or discharge of crew members during the course of the voyage. Included in the logs is also a record of the money advanced to individual seamen at ports along the way for items such as clothing and cigarettes from the "slop chest." The seamen usually initialed each entry in the latter record and signed his "slop chest account" at the time of his discharge. Official Logbooks, which should not be confused with narrative-account logs, were required for all foreign voyages mandated by legislation enacted in 1872, and were occasionally filed for coastal voyages when a birth or death occurred during the voyage. These logbooks were submitted to the newly-created Office of Shipping Commissioners.
These logbooks are arranged by port, thereunder either chronologically, then by name of vessel, or a combination of both. Sometimes the "paid" (or sign-off) copy of the shipping articles (a labor contract signed by the master and entire crew) are filed with the logbook. Logbooks from 1872-1941 are found in the Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation (Record Group 41) located at Archives I, while logbooks reaching back to 1939 to the late 20th century are filed in the Records of the US Coast Guard (RG 26) and are located in the regions based on port in which log was turned in. Researchers may consult our National Archives/Regional Archives System Merchant Marine Vessel Logbooks 1938-199x in our Finding Aids Room or contact us to request a search.
NARA also has operating logbooks for some merchant vessels. Our largest series of these is the Merchant Marine Ship's Logs 1918 - 1941, (RG 178, NC-5 Entry 115, National Archives Identifier 574659) link in the Online Catalog located in the Records of the US Maritime Commission. During and after World War I the US Shipping Board created and maintained the records of the Emergency Fleet Corporation (later the Merchant Fleet Corporation) which mandated creation, maintenance and submission of the merchant logbooks for government owned and operated vessels. The following types of logs are included: (1) chief officers'; (2) engineers'; (3) deck departments'; and (4) engine room logs. About half of these logs contain lists relating to officers and crew. These logs are arranged numerically in one series, from 1 to 122,684 and indexed by vessel name. These logbooks are located at Archives II in College Park.
Some merchant vessels logs may also be found in our Records of the Office of Naval Records and Library (RG 45). For more information please visit this description and list of logs included in RG 45.
Inquiries regarding the records at the National Archives building in Washington, DC may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to:
Archives 1 Reference Section
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001.
For information regarding records located at Archives II, researchers may email to email@example.com, or write to:
Archives II Reference Section
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740.