A maritime museum (sometimes nautical museum) is a museum specializing in the display of objects relating to ships and travel on large bodies of water. A subcategory of maritime museums are naval museums, which focus on navies and the military use of the sea.

USS Wisconsin is one of four Iowa class battleships opened to the public as a museum (berthed at Nauticus in Norfolk, VA)
Maritime Museum in Szczecin, Poland
A maritime museum located in the village of Bolungarvík, Vestfirðir, Iceland showing a double 19th century fishing base, a salt hut, a fish drying area, a drying hut and a typical fishing boat of the time.

The great prize of a maritime museum is a historic ship (or a replica) made accessible as a museum ship, but as these are large and require a considerable budget to maintain, many museums preserve smaller or more fragile ships or partial ships within the museum buildings. Most museums exhibit interesting pieces of ships (such as a figurehead or cannon), ship models, and miscellaneous small items associated with ships and shipping, like cutlery, uniforms, and so forth.

Ship modellers often have a close association with maritime museums; not only does the museum have items that help the modeller achieve better accuracy, but the museum provides a display space for models larger than will comfortably fit in a modeller's home, and of the museum is happy to take a ship model as a donation. Museums will also commission models.

There are thousands of maritime museums in the world. Many belong to the International Congress of Maritime Museums, which coordinates members' efforts to acquire, preserve, and display their material. There is a risk that too many maritime museums might dilute the experience for the public, while a poorly managed museum might put other municipalities off from the idea of hosting such a museum.[1]

At 80 acres (32 ha) the Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent, UK can lay claim to being the largest maritime museum in the world, incorporating numerous dockyard buildings, including a 1/4 mile long ropewalk, spinning rooms, covered slips, dry docks, smithery, sail loft, rigging house, mould loft, church, as well as three historic warships, it is the best preserved dockyard from the Age of Sail. However, the UK's National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is also a contender, with many items of great historical significance, such as the actual uniform worn by Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. The largest in the United States of America is 19 acres (7.7 ha), Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut; it preserves not only a number of sailing ships, but also many original seaport buildings, including a ship chandlery, sail loft, ropewalk, and so forth.

A recent activity of maritime museums is to build replicas of ships, since there are few survivors that have not already been restored and put on display. Another is operating a museum harbour, most notably in Germany and the Netherlands but elsewhere too, that offers mooring to privately owned historical vessels, which can be watched but not boarded.

Preservation of ships


The preservation of ships in museums ensures that ancient and historic vessels are preserved for posterity in optimum conditions and are available for academic study and for public education and interest.

Remains of ancient and historic ships and boats can be seen in museums around the world. Where a ship is in a good state of preservation it can sometimes act as a museum in its own right. Many museum ships, such as HMS Victory are popular tourist attractions. Some ships are too fragile to be exposed outdoors or are incomplete and must be preserved indoors. The remains of the Mary Rose for example are kept in a purpose designed building so that conservation treatment can be applied.

In some cases, archaeologists have discovered traces of ships and boats where there are no extant physical remains to be preserved, such as Sutton Hoo, where museum displays can show what the vessel would have looked like, although the vessel itself no longer exists.

Notable maritime museums







YM Museum of Marine Exploration Kaohsiung in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Kursura as a museum ship in Visakhapatnam.


Galata Museo del Mare, Genoa, the largest Maritime Museum of the Mediterranean[2]
Courtyard of the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Submarine Lembit in Estonian Maritime Museum
Malta Maritime Museum in Birgu, Malta

North America


The Council of American Maritime Museums serves as network for museum professionals in North America.

Customs House at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Salem, Massachusetts.
The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia

South America


See also



  1. ^ St. Jacques, Robert (October 1, 2000). "Naval Warship Museums Problems And Potentials". Naval Weapons of the World. Archived from the original on October 24, 2017. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  2. ^ "Musei di Genova - Galata Museo del Mare". www.museidigenova.it. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved May 22, 2022.
  3. ^ "Passage West Maritime Museum". Archived from the original on June 8, 2019. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  4. ^ "MUSEO NAVAL DE MONTEVIDEO . R.O. DEL URUGUAY". histarmar.com.ar. Archived from the original on February 29, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
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