hnsbookfrontHistoric Naval Ships Association

62 Battleship Way, # 3302
Camden, NJ 08103
(866) 877-6262‬, ext. 202
[email protected]

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HNSA Beginnings and Growth

On the afternoon of December 10, 1966, representatives from five former United States naval vessels open as museums met in the wardroom of the battleship North Carolina in Wilmington, NC and established what would become known as the Historic Naval Ships Association. The founders desired to create a forum which would enable them to exchange ideas, discuss problems, and provide mutual support for each other. The original tenets of the founders remain to this day – to honor the men and women who joined the naval service of their nation; to educate the public, both young and old about the great naval heritage of their nation; and to inspire men and women to serve their country. Regardless, to step aboard one of these vessels is to step back in time and, for a brief moment, be transported to far off exotic sounding places such as the Normandy Beaches, Trafalgar, the Mediterranean, and Leyte Gulf and experience moments in history that shaped the world we live in. 

From that small 5-member beginning, the organization has grown into a global institution and come to be regarded informally as “the world’s third largest navy.” Indeed, as of the beginning of 2023, fleet members represent twelve nations and over 100 organizations with over 120 vessels of all types.

HNSA Today: Our Continuing Mission

Preserving maritime heritage is a daunting task. The ships are historical artifacts in their own right and not immune to the indignities of aging. Preservation of a ship requires an investment of considerable financial, industrial, and human resources. Above all, preservation requires adherence to an age old axiom: constant vigilance. Organizations entrusted with these vessels approach the restoration tasks in different manners. A few of these organizations are blessed with adequate funding necessary to accomplish the enormous upkeep required on a regular basis. Most, however, develop phased approach plans that can be realistically supported in an environment of funding and staffing limitations. As the years go by, restoration becomes increasingly more difficult as sources of vintage spare parts dry up. Costs to fabricate custom parts from scratch will further burden ship restorers.

With twenty-first century technologies and methods, our membership gains great advantage. Computer based systems and the Internet revolutionize communication and provide an avenue for the diffusion of ideas and information. Now, for HNSA, trans-global communication can be measured in minutes and hours rather than days and months; a phenomenon that would appear miraculous to the sailors who manned the oldest ships in our fleet. It is now possible for a curator in Australia to receive the answer to a problem from a member in Sweden; while a manager in Cleveland may wish to spread a unique marketing idea fleet-wide. The limiting factor in a rapid response is no longer great distances but rather time zones.

Naval ships are more than just a collection of pieces and parts hewn from the fabric of the Earth. Indeed, these ships are often personified by the spirits of the men and women who serve in them. These vessels have sailed through major eras in world history. As time marches on, they will be the only tangible survivors of some of the most momentous historical events. HNSA strives to preserve this legacy through an assortment of educational programs designed to “keep the ship alive.” Methods vary, but visitors now have the chance to hear the distinctive rumble of a Fairbanks Morse diesel engine, watch re-enactors in period uniforms demonstrate rigging sails and in some cases listen to active duty personnel relate sea tales. Many of the member organizations have overnight encampments as well as interactive educational programs specifically for the younger visitor. If after your visit one of the ships included in this guide, you have a better understanding and appreciation of why men and women go down to the sea in ships in service to their countries, HNSA will have succeeded in its mission.

It is important to note the role played in the preservation and interpretation of these ships played by volunteers. In most cases, it is the selfless, dedicated work of volunteers that allow these ships to survive and thrive as living museums. Your support can be expressed in many ways. I invite the reader to visit the Historic Naval Ships excellent website, and explore ways in which your specific talents can be utilized in order to assist in ongoing efforts to keep not only these ships but also maritime and naval traditions alive and well for future generations

Dr. Edward J. Marolda

Former Director of Naval History

United States Navy