Advanced search for ships by name

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This page is a flexible search engine based on the CLIP index of ships by name, drawn from the primary records of British shipping from 1855 to the 1950s.

All British ships were registered at one of the hundreds of ports of registry around Britain and the then British Colonies. From 1855 onwards, each ship was allocated an official number. These numbers provided a unique reference and they are still used by modern archives as a means of identifying documents.

The main purpose of this page is to aid the identification of ships from partial data, in particular by assisting in choosing from a range of possibilities to identify an official number. The search engine will cope with abbreviations for port names and allows you to filter the range of years covered. It leads on to more information such as the location of crew lists for the ship.

The search engine will interpret the data you enter and set up suitable searches using CLIP know-how and our ships, ports and places database. It will then work through a series of searches to find a match or matches for your data. In many cases, it will be able to identify a single match.

The database includes every British registered ship from 1855 to the early 1950s with official numbers 1 to 200000. It was last updated on 6th May 2023 and contains 794743 entries.

For a full explanation of the records of British ship, please see our information page: Records of British ships

How to make an advanced search for ships by name

On the search form, enter your data for the ship's name, starting with a letter and using '%' as a wild-card to stand for any number of letters.

If you want to restrict the search to a range of dates, enter the years to search in the range 1857 to 1940 (these are the default values).

If you have data for the ship's port of registry, including as an abbreviation such as L'pl, you can add that to the search.

Then click

Reading the results

The advanced search engine looks for records of ships in the CLIP databases, using CLIP know-how to guide the search.

These are the steps it takes:

  1. Tidy the input data, for example by expanding abbreviations, interpreting port information and adding alternatives.
  2. Search the database using the ship's name and the target date, with official number and port if available. This search looks for matches in our Appropriation Books and Mercantile Navy List (MNL) data. Our MNL data is mostly every tenth year (1860, 1870, 1880 etc), so a match will be returned if the ship is in MNL at any time prior to the target date or the next later MNL year. For example, a target date of 1885 will return any match earlier than 1885 and also any match for 1890. These first results are then weeded, to remove instances where the ship's registration had been closed before the target date, or where the ship was first registered after the target date.
  3. If the first search fails to produce any matches, the search is repeated looking for matches for any port.
  4. If that fails, the system makes a sounds-like (soundex) search, first with, then without, port data.
  5. If all these searches fail to find a match, there is a link to the CLIP ship search page, which allows flexible searches which might produce a hit.

If you have provided a range of dates, the search results are colour-coded, like this:

  Good match, with MNL data close to the target date.

  Fair match, with MNL data fairly close to the target date.

  Poor match, with MNL data much earlier than the target date.

Using the data

Many researchers will be interested in finding crew lists and agreements. There are links to the MHA and CLIP indexes of crew lists and agreements.

A further link (More ...) is provided to the CLIP database based on the ship's official number, so that you can look for more information about the ship, and see where we got our data from.

Data sources

The sources of the data used for this search are:

Please see our general information page  CLIP data   for details on sources, methodology, the abbreviations we have used, and our acknowledgements.

Be aware All data sources, including printed ones (and transcriptions from them) are prone to error. It is basic good research practice to check the original sources. This site provides images of many of the original documents, so it is easy to do that.

Please start with a letter and use % as wild card(s) for any number of characters.

These entries are optional

Years to search


within the range 1857 to 1940

Then click here: