Museum ship

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The Polish destroyer ORP Błyskawica is currently preserved as a museum ship in Gdynia.
For ships that are not original see Ship replica. For preserved incomplete ships see Ships preserved in museums.

A museum ship, or sometimes memorial ship, is a ship that has been preserved and converted into a museum open to the public, for educational or memorial purposes. Some are also used for training and recruitment purposes, a use found mostly with the small number of museum ships that are still operational, i.e., capable of regular movement.[1]

There are several hundred museum ships around the world, with around 175 of them organised in the Historic Naval Ships Association[2] though there are also many non-naval museum ships as well, from general merchant ships to tugs and lightships. Many, if not most, museum ships are also associated with a maritime museum.


Mikasa, one of the earlier ships of the Empire of Japan, and the only surviving predreadnought battleship.
Former crew members of USS Missouri pose for photos after the Anniversary of the End of World War II ceremony.

Despite the long history of sea travel, the ravages of the elements and the expense of maintenance results in the eventual destruction of nearly all ships ever built, often by sinking, usually by being broken up and sold for scrap. Only a few survive, sometimes because of historical significance, but more often due to luck and circumstance. Since an old ship tied up at dockside, without attention, still decays and eventually sinks, the practice of recent years has been to form some sort of preservation society, solicit donations from governments or private individuals, organize volunteer labor from the enthusiasts, and open the restored ship to visitors, usually for a fee.

The restoration and maintenance of museum ships presents problems for historians who are asked for advice, and the results periodically generate some controversy[citation needed]. For instance, the rigging of sailing ships has almost never survived, and so the rigging plan must be reconstructed from various sources. Studying the ships also allows historians to analyze how life on and operation of the ships took place.[3] Numerous scientific papers have been written on ship restoration and maintenance, and international conferences are held discussing the latest developments.[4] Some years ago, the Barcelona Charter was signed by a variety of international owner organizations of traditional vessels, and provides certain accepted minimum criteria for the restoration and operation of traditional watercraft still in operation.[5]

Another consideration is the distinction between a 'real' museum ship, and a ship replica. As repairs accumulate over time, less and less of the ship is of the original materials, and the lack of old parts (or even 'appropriate' work tools) may lead to the use of modern 'short-cuts' (such as welding a metal plate instead of riveting it, as would be the case during the ships historical period).[6] Visitors without historical background are also often unable to distinguish between a historical museum ship and a (more-or-less historically relevant) ship replica, which may serve solely as a tourist attraction.[3]

Museum usage[edit]

The 17th-century warship Vasa on display in the Vasa Museum

Typically the visitor enters via gangplank, wanders around on the deck, then goes below, usually using the original stairways, giving a sense of how the crew got around. The interior features restored but inactivated equipment, enhanced with mementos including old photographs, explanatory displays, pages from the ship's logs, menus, and the like. Some add recorded sound effects, audio tours or video displays to enhance the experience.

In some cases ships the radio room has been brought back into use, with volunteers operating amateur radio equipment. Often the callsign assigned is a variation on the original identification of the ship. For example, the submarine USS Cobia, which had the call NBQV, is now on the air as NB9QV. The WWII submarine USS Pampanito SS383, berthed at the National Maritime Historic Park in San Francisco, had the wartime call NJVT and is now on the air as NJ6VT. In other cases, such as the USS Missouri, a distinctive call (in this case KH6BB) is used. This radio work not only helps restore part of the vessel, but provides worldwide publicity for the museum ship.

A number of the larger museum ships have begun to offer hosting for weddings, meetings, and other events, sleepovers, and on a few ships still seaworthy, cruises. In the United States, this includes the USS Constitution's annual "turnaround", where the old ship is towed out into the harbor and brought back in facing the other way, so as to weather evenly. A place on the deck is by invitation or lottery only, and highly prized[citation needed].

Many consider the tourism appeal of an interesting old vessel on the city waterfront strong enough that any port city should showcase one or more museum ships. This may even include building a replica ship at great expense.[7]

Notable examples[edit]

Name Location Nationality Launched Type Comments
ARA Presidente Sarmiento Buenos Aires, Argentina Argentina
1897 Barque (training ship) Made thirty seven annual training cruises including six circumnavigations of the globe.
ARA Uruguay Buenos Aires, Argentina Argentina
1874 corvette Built in England, is the largest ship afloat of its age in the Argentine Navy.
BAE Abdón Calderón Guayaquil, Ecuador Ecuador
1886 Gunboat Launched in 1886. In 1941, during the armed conflict with Peru, BAE Abdon Calderón had a successful confrontation with Peruvian destroyer Admiral Villar, a ship that had vastly superior characteristics. Today it is a museum ship in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen Den Helder, Netherlands Netherlands
1937 Minesweeper Escaped from Surabaya, Java during the Japanese invasion in 1942 disguised as a tropical island and reached Australia.
SAS Assegaai Simon's Town, South Africa South Africa
South Africa
1972 Submarine Previously SAS Johanna van der Merwe, the submarine can be viewed daily, after booking in Jubilee Square, Simon's Town.
af Chapman Stockholm, Sweden Sweden
1888 Full Rigged Ship A full rigged metal ship, built 1888.
USS Alabama Mobile, USA United States
United States
1942 Battleship Received nine WWII battle stars, later joined by USS Drum.
Aurora St. Petersburg, Russia Russia
1900 Protected cruiser Launched in 1900, survived the Battle of Tsushima and signaled the start of the October Revolution.
Balclutha San Francisco, USA United States
United States
1886 Tall ship Launched in 1886, U.S. National Historic Landmark.
USS Becuna Philadelphia, USA United States
United States
1944 Submarine Launched in January 1944 and received four battle stars during World War II.
HMS Belfast London, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1938 Light cruiser Only surviving cruiser built during the 1930s. Mined in 1939 and later assisted in the sinking of the battleship Scharnhorst and provided gunfire support on D-Day and during the Korean War.
ORP Błyskawica Gdynia, Poland Poland
1936 Destroyer Oldest surviving destroyer, escaped from Poland just before the German invasion began in 1939.
USS Bowfin Pearl Harbor, USA United States
United States
1942 Submarine Fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
HMY Britannia Edinburgh, Scotland United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1953 Royal Yacht / Hospital ship (designed for potential conversion) The last British Royal Yacht.
USS Cairo (1861) Vicksburg, USA USA
United States
1861 Ironclad warship Only preserved Union ironclad from the American Civil War, raised in 1964 and reconstructed at Vicksburg National Military Park.
Cap San Diego Hamburg, Germany Germany
1962 Bulk carrier Combination cargo/passenger ship formerly used on the South American run.
MV Cape Don Sydney, Australia Australia
1962 Lighthouse tender She was used to service lighthouse buoys and lightships on the Australian coast.[8]
HMAS Castlemaine Williamstown, Victoria, Australia Australia
1941 Corvette Commissioned in 1942, opened as museum ship in 1973
HMS Cavalier Chatham, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1944 Destroyer Only preserved British World War II destroyer.
USS Cavalla Galveston, USA United States
United States
1943 Submarine fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
INS Chapal (K94) Karwar, India India
1976 Missile boat Commissioned in 1976, it is an example of the type of missile boats used in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
Charles W. Morgan Mystic Seaport, USA United States
United States
1841 Whaler Wooden 19th century whaler, only such U.S. ship remaining.
USS Cobia (SS-225) Manitowoc, Wisconsin, USA United States
United States
1943 Submarine six patrols in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
USS Cod Cleveland, USA United States
United States
1943 Submarine fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
USS Constellation Baltimore, USA United States
United States
1854 Sloop-of-War At one point considered one of USS Constitution's sister ships, she is the only surviving ocean-going American Civil War-era warship.
USS Constitution Boston, USA United States
United States
1797 Frigate Oldest commissioned warship afloat.
USS Albacore Portsmouth, USA United States
United States
1953 Submarine A unique research submarine that pioneered the American version of the teardrop hull form (sometimes referred to as an "Albacore hull") of modern submarines
Cutty Sark Greenwich, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1869 Clipper Only surviving clipper ship. Heavily damaged by fire in 2007, under restoration to reopen in 2012.[9]
Delfín (S-61) Torrevieja, Spain Spain
1973 submarine Commissioned 1 January 1974, opened as museum ship 8 May 2004.[10]
Dom Fernando II e Glória Almada, Portugal Portugal
1843 Frigate It was built in Daman, Portuguese India, and launched on 22 October 1843. It was the last sailing frigate of Portuguese Navy during is service time (1845–1878).It burnt in 1963 in the river Tagus and remained until 1992 when the restoration process began. In 1998 fully recovered it was part of the exhibit of Expo '98
Drazki Varna, Bulgaria Bulgaria
1907 Torpedo boat The only surviving example of a large steam-powered torpedo boat. Built in 1907, she saw action during the Balkan Wars including a successful torpedo attack on a Turkish cruiser.
Elissa Galveston, USA United States
United States
1877 Tall ship One of the oldest tall ships still active, launched in 1877; U.S. National Historic Landmark.
Enrico Toti (S 506) Milan, Italy Italy
1968 Submarine Completed 1968 - decommissioned 1992 - Museum ship in Milan, named after World War I Italian war hero Enrico Toti.
Falls of Clyde Honolulu, USA United States
United States
1878 Full Rigged Ship World's last surviving iron-hulled, four masted full-rigged ship and worlds only sail-driven oil tanker.
HMS Gannet Chatham, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1878 Sloop-of-war Only surviving example of a steam-powered sloop.
Georgios Averof Palaio Faliro, Greece Greece
1910 Armored cruiser Former flagship of the Greek Navy. Last surviving armoured cruiser in the world.
Micalvi Puerto Williams, Chile Germany
Germany, Chile
1925 Transport ship Museum ship and yacht club. First worked as refuse ship in river Rhine, Germany. Bought in 1928, to transport ammunition for Battleship "Almirante Latorre". Served the settlers and pioneers in remote areas of Chilean Patagonia. She participated in the founding of Puerto Williams.
Gorch Fock Stralsund, Germany Germany, Soviet Union
Germany, Soviet Union
1933 Barque Kriegsmarine school ship scuttled at the end of World War II, raised and re-used by the Soviet Union.
SS Great Britain Bristol, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1843 Ocean liner A Brunel design, Great Britain was the first ocean-going ship to have screw propeller and an iron hull.
HMCS Haida Hamilton, Canada Canada
1942 Destroyer Tribal class destroyer, one of the most successful ships of World War II.
Hiddensee Fall River, USA East Germany
East Germany
1985 Missile Corvette The only Russian-designed Tarantul I class on public display in the world.
Hikawa Maru Yokohama, Japan Japan
1929 Ocean liner / Hospital ship One of the few pre-war Japanese merchantmen to survive World War II, she served in the Imperial Japanese Navy as a hospital ship before returning to civilian use after the war.
HNoMS Hitra Haakonsvern, Norway Norway
1942 Submarine chaser Used by the Shetland Bus, a Norwegian special command based in the Shetland Isles during World War II. Owned by the Royal Norwegian Navy Museum in Horten, while sailing under naval command in the summer season.
Holland 1 Gosport, United Kingdom United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1900 Submarine Laid down in 1900 was the first submarine commissioned by the Royal Navy.
USS Hornet Alameda, USA United States
United States
1943 Aircraft carrier World War II Essex-class aircraft carrier, launched on 30 August 1943. Famous for recovering the capsule of Apollo 11.
Huáscar Talcahuano, Chile Peru, Chile
1865 Ironclad Launched in 1865, Huáscar is the oldest surviving ironclad turret ship. She survived a battle with a British squadron in 1877 and played a significant part in the 1879 War of the Pacific, later seized by the Chilean fleet.
USS Intrepid New York City, USA United States
United States
1943 Aircraft carrier World War II Essex-class aircraft carrier, launched on April 26, 1943 and now part of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.
USS Iowa San Pedro, Los Angeles, USA United States
United States
1942 Battleship Opened as museum on 7 July 2012.
Jylland Ebeltoft, Denmark Denmark
1860 Screw frigate Veteran of the Battle of Heligoland, she is the last surviving wooden screw frigate.
INS Kursura (S20) Visakhapatnam, India India
1969 Submarine Commissioned on December 18, 1969, it was one of the first submarines to serve in the Indian Navy. It was deployed during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
USS Laffey Charleston, USA United States
United States
1943 Destroyer Hit by four bombs and six kamikazes off Okinawa, earning the nickname "The Ship That Wouldn't Die".
SMS Leitha Budapest, Hungary Austro-Hungarian Empire
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg
1871 Monitor The only surviving Austro-Hungarian warship, launched in 1871.
USS Lexington Corpus Christi, USA United States
United States
1942 Aircraft carrier Served in World War II and subsequently served as a training ship for three decades' worth of US Navy air crews. Lexington is the oldest surviving aircraft carrier still intact.
Lo Yang (DD-14) Cijin District, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan Republic of China
1944 Destroyer Launched on 25 January 1944 as USS Taussig (DD-746).
Mary Rose Portsmouth, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1511 Carrack Built 1510-12, she was one of the earliest purpose-built warships to serve in the Royal Navy. Sank in 1545 and raised in 1982.
USS Massachusetts Fall River, USA United States
United States
1941 Battleship Served in World War II.
USS Midway San Diego, USA United States
United States
1945 Aircraft carrier Served from 1946 to Desert Storm.
Mikasa Yokosuka, Japan Japan
1902 Battleship Last surviving pre-dreadnought battleship. Admiral Togo's flagship at the Battle of Tsushima.
Minsk Shenzhen, China Soviet Union
Soviet Union
1975 Aircraft carrier
USS Missouri Pearl Harbor, USA United States
United States
1944 Battleship Site of the Japanese surrender ceremony that ended World War II.
HTMS Maeklong Samut Prakan province, Thailand Thailand
1935 Corvette The longest serving ship in the Thai Royal Navy, sixty years from 1937.
USS Nautilus Groton, USA United States
United States
1954 Submarine World's first nuclear-powered vessel.
Nazario Sauro (S 518) Genoa, Italy Italy
1976 Submarine Decommissioned 2002; since September 2009 has been a museum ship in Genoa.
BAP Abtao (SS-42) El Callao, Peru Peru
1954 Submarine The submarine was decommissioned in 1998 and became a museum ship in 2004.
USS New Jersey Camden, USA United States
United States
1942 Battleship One of the longest-serving warships of the twentieth century. Most decorated battleship.
SS Nomadic Harland and Wolff, Belfast, United Kingdom United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1911 Tender Commissioned in 1911 and built to tender the RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic in Cherbourg. Opened as museum ship 2012. She is the only ship built by the White Star Line still afloat.
RAM Poderoso Talcahuano, Chile Chile
1911 Tug Now half destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami of February 27, 2010. There are proposals to recover to her previous condition of museum ship..
USS North Carolina Wilmington, USA United States
United States
1940 Battleship Served in every post-Midway campaign of the Pacific Theater during World War II.
HMS Ocelot Chatham, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1962 Submarine Was the last submarine built for the Royal Navy at historic Royal Dockyard in Chatham.
USS Olympia Philadelphia, USA United States
United States
1892 Protected cruiser Commodore Dewey's flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay. Only surviving ship from the Spanish-American War and from the Great White Fleet.
HMS Onyx Barrow-in-Furness, United Kingdom United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1966 Submarine The only non-nuclear submarine of the Royal Navy to take part in the Falklands War.
USS Pampanito San Francisco, USA United States
United States
1943 Submarine Launched in January 1943 and completed six war patrols from 1944 to 1945 and served as a Naval Reserve Training ship from 1960 to 1971. Currently at Fisherman's wharf in San Francisco.
Passat Travemünde, Germany Germany
1911 Barque Four-masted flying P-Liner, sister ship of Pamir.
Peking New York City, USA United States
United States
1911 Barque Four-masted flying P-Liner.
Pommern Mariehamn, Åland Finland
1903 Barque Four-masted flying P-Liner and the world's last four-masted steel barque still in original condition as a cargo ship.
USS Pueblo Pyongyang, North Korea United States
United States
1944 Technical research ship Captured by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1968.
RMS Queen Mary Long Beach, USA United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1934 Ocean Liner Famous Cunard liner. Now a museum, with its first-class staterooms used as hotel rooms; used frequently for film and television.
HNoMS Rap Horten, Norway Norway
1873 Torpedo boat One of the first torpedo craft, a class of warship that revolutionized naval warfare during the late nineteenth century.
HMCS Sackville Halifax, Canada Canada
1941 Corvette Flower class convoy escort. Last surviving example of one of the most important ship classes of World War Two.
USS Salem Quincy, USA United States
United States
1947 Heavy cruiser Only surviving example of a heavy cruiser.
USS Slater Albany, USA United States
United States
1944 Destroyer escort Currently the only museum ship of this type afloat in North America.
HMS Småland Gothenburg, Sweden Sweden
Naval Ensign of Sweden.svg
1956 Destroyer Launched in 1956, the Småland became one of the first destroyers to carry missiles as part of her armament.
Star of India San Diego, USA United Kingdom, United States
United Kingdom,United States
1863 Tall ship One of the oldest tall ships still active, the Star of India was launched in 1863. U.S. National Historic Landmark
Sundowner Ramsgate, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1912 Pinnace Built as a steam launch for the Royal Navy, later purchased by Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of the Titanic. Participated in the evacuation of Dunkirk.
USCGC Taney Baltimore, USA United States
United States
1936 Cutter One of only two U.S. ships still afloat that were present at the Pearl Harbor attack, the other being the harbor tug USS Hoga.
USS Texas Houston, USA United States
United States
1912 Battleship Oldest surviving dreadnought battleship. Served in Veracruz Expedition, WWI, and WWII. Berthed in the San Jacinto Monument Historic Park.
USS Torsk Baltimore, USA United States
United States
1944 Submarine The last U.S. Navy ship to sink an enemy ship in World War II..
HMS Trincomalee Hartlepool, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1817 Frigate The oldest British warship still afloat.
HMS Unicorn Dundee, Scotland United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1824 Frigate Only example of a wooden frigate 'in ordinary', or in a reserve fleet.
German submarine U-505 Chicago, USA Germany
1941 Submarine Type IXC U-boat captured by the United States Navy in 1944.
U-534 Birkenhead, England Germany
1942 Submarine Type IXC sunk 3 May 1945 in the Baltic and raised in 1993. It is now displayed in sections at the Woodside terminal of the Mersey Ferries at Birkenhead.[11]
U-995 Laboe, Germany Germany, Norway
1943 Submarine Only remaining Type VIIC/41 U-boat. After World War Two she became the Norwegian KNM Kaura.
Wilhelm Bauer (U-2540) Bremerhaven, Germany Germany
1945 Submarine Only remaining Type XXI U-boat. After World War Two she was raised from the Baltic Sea and renamed Wilhelm Bauer.
HMAS Vampire Sydney, Australia Australia
1956 Destroyer Largest warship preserved in the Southern Hemisphere.
Vasa Stockholm, Sweden Sweden
Naval Ensign of Sweden.svg
1627 Galleon The world's only almost fully preserved 17th century warship. Sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and salvaged in 1961.
INS Vela (S40) Tamil Nadu, India India
1973 Submarine Commissioned in 1973, it was one of the first submarines to serve in the Indian Navy.
HMAS Onslow Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia Australia
1968 Submarine One of six Oberon class submarines operated by the Royal Australian Navy.
O'Brien Valdivia, Chile Chile
1972 Submarine .
HMS Victory Portsmouth, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1765 Ship of the line Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. Remains the flagship of the Royal Navy, and is the oldest ship in commission in any navy.
INS Vikrant Mumbai, India India, United Kingdom
India, United Kingdom
1945 Aircraft carrier Commissioned on 4 March 1961, the carrier served the Indian Navy until 31 January 1997, and played a key role in the blockade of East Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
HMS Warrior Portsmouth, England United Kingdom
United Kingdom
1860 Armored Frigate Launched in 1860, Warrior was the first ocean-going iron hulled ship of its type.
USS Wisconsin Norfolk, USA United States
United States
1943 Battleship Served in various conflicts since World War II.
USS Yorktown Mount Pleasant, USA United States
United States
1943 Aircraft carrier Launched on 21 January 1943 and served throughout the Pacific during World War II
Zhongshan Jiangxia District, Wuhan, People's Republic of China Republic of China
1913 Gunboat Launched in 1913, sunk in the Battle of Wuhan in 1938
HMCS Bras d'Or (FHE 400) L'Islet-sur-Mer, Canada Canada
1968 Hydrofoil One of the first hydrofoils in naval service.


  1. ^ Activities of the Historic Naval Ships Association (the international Historic Naval Ships Association website. Accessed 2008-06-06.)
  2. ^ About The Historic Naval Ships Association (the international Historic Naval Ships Association website. Accessed 2008-06-06.)
  3. ^ a b Museum ships built in 1999: Remarks on the reconstruction of historical inland and sea-going vessels (abstract) - Ingo Heidbrink, Ingo; Deutsches Schiffahrtsarchiv (DSA) 22, 1999, Page 43–58
  4. ^ Conference Proceedings (from the 'Third International Conference on the Technical Aspects of the Preservation of Historic Vessels' (1997) webpage on the San Francisco Maritime Park Association website)
  5. ^ The "Barcelona Charter", European Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Traditional Ships in Operation - Ingo Heidbrink (editor), Bremen (Hauschildt Verlag, 2003
  6. ^ Conserving Unique and Historic Ships - Kearon, John; Head of Shipkeeping, Industrial and Land Transport Conservation, Merseyside Maritime Museum, paper from the 'Third International Conference on the Technical Aspects of the Preservation of Historic Vessels' (1997) webpage on the San Francisco Maritime Park Association website
  7. ^ A Proposal to Recreate the Royal Yacht Ha'Aheo o Hawai'i (Pride of Hawaii) (International Historic Watercraft Society, via a website of the USCIS Regional Center Immigrant Investor Program. Accessed 2008-03-26.)
  8. ^ "MV Cape Don on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels". Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  9. ^ "Mayor and PM reveal Cutty Sark restoration delay". BBC News. 4 February 2010. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  10. ^ Museo flotante submarino S-61 Delfín (spanish)
  11. ^ About U-534 (from the '' website. Accessed 2009-01-04.)

Further reading[edit]

  • Aymar, B. (1967). A pictorial treasury of the marine museums of the world; A guide to the maritime collections, restorations, replicas, and marine museums in twenty-three countries. New York: Crown.
  • Evans, M. H., & West, J. (1998). Maritime museums: A guide to the collections and museum ships in Britain and Ireland. London: Chatham Pub.
  • Stammers, M. (1978). Discovering maritime museums and historic ships. Discovering series, no. 228. Aylesbury [England]: Shire Publications
  • Sullivan, D. (1978). Old ships, boats & maritime museums. London: Coracle Books.
  • Heidbrink, I. (1994). Schrott oder Kulturgut. Zur Bewertung historischer Wasserfahrzeuge aus der Perspektive des Historikers. Bestandserfassung - Bewertung - quellengerechte Erhaltung. Lage / Lippe: Fritz Heidbrink.

External links[edit]