By Debbie Beavis

Note that up until the Merchant Shipping (Fishing Boats) Act of 1883, the

records for general merchant seamen include records of fishermen. You will

normally find the Master/Captain of a fishing vessel referred to as

Skipper. The Mate may be referred to as Second Hand.

Skippers & Mates - Certificates of Competency and Service

BT129 - Registers of Certificates of Competency, Skippers & Mates of

Fishing Boats

BT130 - Registers of Certificates of Service, Skippers & Mates of Fishing Boats

These registers are indexed by BT138 - Indexes to Registers of Certificates

of Competency and Service: Skippers & Mates of Fishing Boats 1880-1917. The

indexes give name, place and year of birth, and certificate number.

Certificates beginning with a 0 (zero) indicate Certificates of Service.

All others are Certificates of Competency.

Certificates of Competency give relatively brief information, largely

repeating the information shown in the Indexes. The Certificates of Service

include date when the Certificate was granted, and a note of voyages to

date as found in registers of ordinary seamen's service which has been the

subject of an earlier posting.

There is an overlapping source of information in BT352 recently prepared

for release at the Public Record Office in Kew, England.

BT352 - Index to Certificates of Competency, Masters, Mates, Engineers and

Fishing Officers, Home & Foreign Trade 1910-1930

Records of crew of fishing vessels may often be located in BT348, 349 and

350, the Fourth Register of Seamen covering dates 1913-1941.

Records of Apprentices from 1824-1953 are held with the regular Merchant

Navy Apprentice records in BT150. Indentures for most years have been

destroyed. However, those for every fifth year have been filed as follows:

BT152 - Apprentice Indentures, Fishing


Agreements and Crew Lists for fishing vessels were filed as follows:

Before 1884, Agreements and Crew Lists are filed with the main series:

BT98 - Agreements and Crew Lists Series l: 1835-1860

BT99 - Agreements and Crew Lists Series ll: 1861-1938 and 1951-1989

From 1884-1929 10 percent of Fishing Agreements and Crew Lists are held at

the PRO in:

BT144 - Agreements and Crew Lists: Series lV (Fishing Agreements)

Please see the Guide to Agreements & Crew Lists for a full explanation of

the various locations for these records.


Fishing vessels were given official numbers, but from 1894 (following the

Merchant Shipping Act 1894) fishing vessels were required to be lettered

and numbered according to their port of registry. Each port had a letter

(or letters) assigned to it along with the fishing register number allotted

to the vessel. The letters used by each port - a full list may be obtained

via the PRO's website - usually were related to the port name... Grimsby =

GY; Folkestone = FE, Ramsgate = R (originally RE) Certificate details and

the vessel's letter and fishing number were entered into registers by the

Customs Officers at each port. Returns were sent to the RGSS annually, but

the original registers are all being transferred to relevant local County

Record Offices, a process now almost complete.

The RGSS entered details into Statistical Registers of Fishing Vessels, now

held at the PRO in BT145. The first series covers the dates from 1893-1898,

but thenceforth each form includes statistics for a five year period. These

registers include the Fishing register number and letter; name, date of

registration and reference, official number, tonnage etc along with a

description of the kind of fishing in which the vessel was normally

employed.... trawling, dredging, shrimping, cockling, musseling.

There was an indication of the number of crew normally employed but there

is NO note of the names of any crew nor officer. These registers do however

make it a simple matter to compile a list of all fishing vessels working

out of a port at any particular time, and a systematic search may then be

made of all crew agreements in order to compile records of a fisherman's


This is a brief overview of the records available for tracing British

fishermen and records of fishing vessels. Other records may be held in

local maritime museums and record offices and it is always worth while

contacting the nearest archive to the port to enquire about any locally

held records. The Public Record Office has recently revised their series of

online leaflets and the latest version is available at their website They have also placed their catalogue on line from which you may ascertain the records you require.