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How to use the Mercantile Navy List

How to Read an Entry

Page from Merchant Navy List showing entries beginning with `Quedoc`Page from Merchant Navy List showing entries beginning with `Quedoc`

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This is a typical entry in Mercantile Navy List, whose format remained unchanged from 1871 to 1977. Entries for sailing ships included the rig [definition] but were otherwise less detailed, omitting the date of registration, dimensions and material.

Part of the entry for `Quedoc` in a Mercantile Navy ListPart of the entry for `Quedoc` in a Mercantile Navy List

Official number The unique number given to every British registered ship. It does not change during its life under the British flag. It is even restored if the ship comes back to British ownership after a period under a foreign flag.

Name Footnotes show any names previously carried by the ship.

International code signal A unique four-character code which a ship could use to signal its name by a flag hoist or, later, by radio.

Port and year of registry Every British vessel had to be registered in one of a number of customs ports. Here an official registrar would keep an up-to-date record of its details. The port of registry [definition] was shown on the vessel`s stern and is a way to tell apart vessels with the same name. For researchers, the port and date of registry help them to locate the Customsregisters.

Where built Unlike Lloyd`s Register of ShipsMercantile Navy List never gave the name of the ship`s builder. However, the location is often precise enough to allow an educated guess to be made about their identity.

When built As ships grew more sophisticated, the `fitting out` period between launch and completion lengthened. This meant ships could well be launched in one year but not completed until several months later in the next calendar year. The year given in Mercantile Navy List appears to be that of completion.


Part of the entry for `Quedoc` in a Mercantile Navy ListPart of the entry for `Quedoc` in a Mercantile Navy List


Registered tonnage Net tonnage [definition] is a measure of the space available for carrying cargo or passengers - harbour and other dues are usually based on this figure. Gross tonnage [definition] is the total enclosed space in the ship.

Horsepower and type of propulsion The horsepower [definition] quoted is nominal horsepower [definition], which is calculated from characteristics of the engine and is not the measured power output.

Owners and managing owners Ownership of vessels has been traditionally divided into 64 shares, with each share sold to one or more individuals. Mercantile Navy List gives just one or two owners, either the largest shareholders or the managing owner [definition], nominated by the owners to take responsibility for the ship.


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