Military Records

Logbooks of US Merchant Vessels

Official Logbooks

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.

What you can find in the Logbooks

Official Logbooks within the holdings of the National Archives document:

  • name of the vessel
  • home port of the vessel
  • official number of the vessel
  • master's name
  • names and ratings of the crew
  • inclusive dates and destinations of the voyage
  • accounts of births, deaths, and marriages
  • infractions of the rules during the voyage
  • illnesses, and the engagement or discharge of crew members during the course of 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." The seamen usually initialed each entry in the latter record and signed his "slop chest account" at the time of his discharge.

How the Logbooks are Arranged

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.

Where you can find the Logbooks

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.

Operating Logbooks

NARA also has operating logbooks for some merchant vessels. Our largest series of these is the Merchant Marine Ship's Logs 1918 - 1941, in the Records of the US Maritime Commission (RG 178, NC-5 Entry 115, National Archives Identifier 574659).

Merchant Logbooks

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'
  4. engine room logs

About half of these logs contain lists relating to officers and crew.

How the Logbooks are Arranged

These logs are arranged numerically in one series, from 1 to 122,684 and indexed by vessel name.

Where you can find the Logbooks

These logbooks are located at the National Archives at 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.

How to Contact Us

Inquiries regarding the records at the National Archives in Washington, DC may be directed to, or write to:

National Archives
Archives 1 Reference Section
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001.

For information regarding records located at the National Archives at College Park, researchers may email to, or write to:

National Archives
Archives II Reference Section
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740.