Many records are available online, sometimes on more than one site. We have listed the main sources but there may be others. Some records are free to view but others are available on either a subscription or pay per view basis (£).

The National Archives (TNA) holds most of the service records for men who served up to the 1920s. The National Museum of the Royal Navy holds some additional records at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. The arm of the navy that an individual served with, their rank, ship or shore establishment and dates of service determine which set of records you need. If an individual was commissioned from the ranks or moved between different services you may find service records in more than one set of files.

Royal Navy (RN) ratings:
RN officers commissioned up to 1917, Royal Marines officers commissioned up to 1925 and RN warrant officers who joined up to 1931:
RN officers and ratings who served up to 1919, including sailors who served during the First World War and who were awarded pensions after 20 years' service:
  • Officers and Ratings Service Records Series II (ADM 29) on TNA and Ancestry (£)
RN, Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) officers who served 1880 to 1960:
Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) officers and ratings:
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR):
Royal Marines:
Royal Naval Division (RND) officers and men who served during the First World War:

The service records of those who served from the 1920s onwards are held by the Ministry of Defence (Naval Disclosure Cell). Full records will be released to proven next of kin. Only very basic information about deceased service personnel will be released to other enquirers, with slight more detail made available 25 years after the date of death. The fee is currently £30. Download the application forms.

The careers of naval officers can be traced through their commissions and promotions listed in the regular official Navy List. These contain seniority lists of all officers, cross-referenced with individual ships. A full set of these publications is held by TNA. IWM holds an almost complete run from 1914 and some of those from 1888–1970 are on Ancestry (£).

The London Gazette also lists commissions and promotions up to the present day.

Other things to look for:

Download our guide to tracing your Royal Navy ancestry.