One useful aspect for tracking a seaman's career I have not mentioned is that when
joining a ship all seamen (except the Master who is the Company Representative) are
required to sign an Agreement with the Owner/Manager of the ship. this Agreement states
the maximum duration of a trip and the conditions of employment. (Masters usually entered
their details on the Agreement but were not legally required to do so)
This is known as the Articles of Agreement and on first joining a ship the seaman must
record the name of his previous ship and where he left her.
These Articles form the basis of Crew Lists which were normally signed at the port's
Customs House, with a copy was always sent to the Registrar of Ships and Seamen. It is
these surviving archived copies that have been distributed to Newfoundland and Greenwich,
although some ports may also have copies of locally signed Articles. These local copies
are often identified by the CLIP project.
Foreign Going Agreements were normally for 2 years although if the ship visited the Uk
during that period, Articles would be closed and a new set opened, allowing the seaman to
legally leave the ship. Many would remain on the ship for another trip, so when the new
Articles are opened his 'last ship' would be 'same'
'Jumping ship' in a foreign port was classed as 'desertion' and often led
to the seaman being blackballed from the service.
'Middle' and 'Home' Trade Articles were changed more frequently and seamen
on these ships would often go through several changes of Articles during one spell on a
It is therefore possible, in theory, to track back through his career although in practice
this can be expensive, often requiring the purchase of several copies of crew lists if the
seaman remained on board a ship through several changes of Articles.
Life at sea until the early 1960s, particularly Foreign Going, was very different from
seamen then normally only joined or left their ship in the UK and were frequently away
from home for two years at a time - the maximum duration of Foreign Going Articles.
Their accumulated leave was quite short so in reality their ship became their home and in
many cases, those that married would have to place their family second to their ship as
Any seaman who wanted to see more of their family would join the Home or Middle trade
ships or local fishing boats which worked around the UK or returned to the UK more