The Marine Society, re-energised

2010, the Year of the Seafarer, merits a closer look at the rebranded seafarers’ charity

Daniel Woods, a First Officer with P&O Cruises, received a Worcester Scholarship and has successfully completed a Middlesex University

Brian Thomas, Director of the Marine Society, highlights the achievements of the world’s most enduring seafarers’ organisation

Photo: The Marine Society

Back in the eighteenth century, the Marine Society brought to the world the concept of practical sea training for seafarers, and for over 250 years the charity has led the way in facilitating and championing the right of seafarers to access lifelong learning. Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson was a trustee, and the organisation provided and equipped the trained manpower that did so much to contribute to victory at Trafalgar.

Founded in 1756 in the King’s Arms Tavern in London, the Marine Society remains dedicated to the wellbeing of those who go to sea, delivering a range of services that are much appreciated by seafarers throughout the world.


Throughout the distinguished history of the Marine Society there have been mergers and acquisitions, all of which have served to enrich the core activity of the charity. In 1976 the Seafarers Education Service, itself a potent force in lifelong learning and professional development, merged with the Society.

More recently the Sea Cadets came aboard. For many years the Marine Society had strong ties with the Sea Cadet Corps, not only as benefactor and landlord to its parent organisation the Sea Cadet Association, but also in providing sea training opportunities for hundreds of cadets each year. Because of these ties, and given a common aim to promote the sea as a career to young people, the Marine Society and the Sea Cadet Association merged in 2004 to form a new parent charity called the Marine Society & Sea Cadets (MSSC).

This was not, perhaps, the most inspired of titles for a newly formed entity, and the nomenclature was not without its challenges, particularly for the Marine Society side of the partnership. These challenges revolved mainly around perceptions created by branding.

The Sea Cadets do a tremendous job in fostering a seafaring ethos amongst 13,000 young people in 387 sea cadet units throughout the UK, a footprint that extends from Caithness to Cornwall. But these young people perceive the sea as a source of fun and adventure – not at all an image that professional seafarers would recognise.

Now, six years on, the Marine Society brand has been re-energised, graced with a new contemporary logo to complement digital-friendly typography, and a brand new website to mark the revival of its original domain name:

A broad remit

The Marine Society’s remit extends well beyond the promotion of the sea as a worthwhile career to young people. Its four main delivery channels for professional seafarers are education/professional development, financial support, book/media services, and advice and guidance.

Guiding the direction of travel for the Marine Society is a new Merchant Navy Liaison Committee under the chairmanship of Captain Nigel Palmer OBE. Comprising representatives of those in the vanguard of contemporary shipping, the committee ensures that Marine Society provision remains dynamic and relevant.

‘No other organisation is dedicated to, or understands so well, the special needs of those who crew and manage our merchant fleet,’ says Captain Palmer. ‘Today the Marine Society is delivering an increasingly diverse range of relevant services to seafarers, and to more of them, than it has since the 1970s. It is represented on all the significant maritime bodies, from MNTB to MNWB, and plays a lead role in helping to formulate policy for the sector as it affects seafarers.’

Supporting seafarers is our strength

The work of the Marine Society is summed up in its new slogan – Supporting seafarers is our strength.

The Society has encouraged, enabled and educated generations of seafarers from all the sea services. This provision is made available to all who go to sea as professional mariners, irrespective of sea service, rank or rate, and catering for every level of learning, covering all ages, abilities and aspirations. The Society works with a range of mainstream education and training providers to deliver seafarer- focused opportunities.

Last year the government’s Ofsted inspectorate referred to ‘an impressive range of learning programmes being delivered by a good provider with outstanding features’.

Financial support for the personal and professional development of seafarers is provided through a range of scholarship schemes for both officers and ratings. Worcester Scholarships are for UK merchant navy officers embarking upon qualifications that will help prepare for a broader career in the maritime sector. A judicious use of these funds helps to engage with seafarers and to incentivise and facilitate career development. The fund was set up in 1989, from the sale of assets at Greenhithe which were owned by the Marine Society.

In addition, the Marine Society administers the John William Slater Scholarship scheme for the advancement of ratings in association with Nautilus International. Each scholarship is worth £15,500, and there are currently 186 recipients. The Society offers career development advice to applicants and, if appropriate, up-skilling in maths prior to attending college.

Interest-free loans for career development can also be provided to eligible seafarers. There is almost £70,000 worth of loans currently active.

A good book

An exchange library service is provided to hundreds of ships, supplying more than 100,000 books annually. The service, which is ninety years old this year, was set up by Albert Mansbridge – who had earlier founded the Workers’ Educational Association, still Britain’s largest voluntary-sector provider of adult education.

Seafarers’ libraries remain appreciated by those fortunate enough to benefit from them. Even in these days of laptops, netbooks and iPads, there is nothing to beat curling up at sea with a good traditional book.

The enormous purchasing power that drives its exchange library operation is used to promote the Marine Society as a leading supplier of books to individual seafarers and corporate interests throughout the maritime sector. It has a depth of professional knowledge in this specialised book market and enjoys close links to key trade suppliers.

Its online bookshop, at www.msbookshop. org, offers excellent prices, a fast turnaround, and genuinely good customer service. Staff know their stuff, and are pleased to advise. Any profit made from this bookshop is ploughed back to help offset the cost of other seafarer services. What better way to help seafarers and the sector in 2010, the Year of the Seafarer!

Accredited quality

The Marine Society has long been a respected source of authoritative, independent and confidential advice and guidance to seafarers on any matter of concern to them. Over the course of a year it will typically receive more than 6,000 enquiries from seafarers. Each enquirer will receive a personal, positive and prompt response.

In recognition of the quality of its provision in this important area, the Marine Society was recently awarded the Matrix Standard – the national quality standard for any organisation that delivers information, advice and guidance on learning and work. No other maritime-sector organisation holds the Matrix quality kitemark, and few match the Society’s reach to seafarers or enjoy its independence.

Looking forward

Centuries have come and gone. Yet much of what is delivered by the Marine Society today would be recognised and applauded by Vice Admiral Nelson. The Marine Society has made a proud and significant contribution to our nation’s history and our maritime heritage. In particular, the Society can justly boast an unmatched record of committed service to those who have gone – and continue to go – to sea. Decades, if not centuries, of further excellent work lie ahead.

The Marine Society, 202 Lambeth Road, London SE1 7JW