Life at Sea explores the lives of seafarers in the Anglo-American maritime world during the period 1600-1900. The emphasis of the resource is largely on narrative content, giving accounts of life onboard a variety of ocean-going vessels, including merchant and naval vessels, whalers, and pirate ships. A large amount of this content is sourced from journals written by sailors at sea but also from memoirs written by sailors reflecting on their lives. Another major source of narrative content are court records, especially from depositions and witness statements, including the examinations of pirates and court martials within the Royal Navy.

Material has been sourced from institutions in both England and the United States, providing collections that reflect the maritime experience on both sides of the Atlantic. The bulk of the material ranges from 1650-1850, reflecting the availability of material and roughly coinciding with the Golden Age of Sail. The end of the 1850s is also the high-water mark of American whaling prior to the discovery of oil in 1859 at Titusville, Pennsylvania.


Material has been sourced from world-renowned maritime archives and heritage collections:
  • Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Mystic Seaport Museum
  • The National Archives, UK
  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich UK

For detailed information on the collections available, visit the Guide to the Archival Collections.

Key themes covered by this resource are:
  • Discipline and Punishment
  • Everyday Life at Sea
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Leisure
  • Mutiny
  • Piracy
  • Port Life and Life Ashore
  • Recruitment
  • Shipwrecks and Disasters
  • Trade
  • Warfare
  • Whaling
  • Women and the Sea
  • Religion
  • Slavery
  • Exploration and Discovery

Themes have been attributed to documents in Life at Sea as metadata tags to enhance browsing functionality. However, due to the nature of the documents, they tend to cover a wide variety of themes (e.g. with many being diaries, journals, and logbooks that allow for a wide representation of themes). As such, there may be multi-theme documents that go beyond the 'core' themes they have been tagged with.

Discover more about the themes covered in Life at Sea and discover document highlights in our Thematic Guides.

This material includes the following document types:
  • Journals and Diaries
  • Court Martial Records
  • Correspondence
  • Prize and Instance Records
  • Logbooks
  • Ship's Musters
  • Medical Journals
  • Memoirs
  • Examination of Pirates
  • Ship's Papers
  • Petitions
  • Narratives
  • Impressment and Regulations
  • Newspapers
  • Artwork and Sketchbooks
  • Orderbooks and Regulations
  • Legal Records
  • Objects

A variety of research tools provide further contextual information or guidance for teaching and research. From essays and video interviews to biographies and exhibitions, explore the options under Research Tools or view the full list in Teaching Tools.