A maritime museum (sometimes nautical museum) is a museum specializing in the display of objects relating to ships and travel on seas and lakes. A naval museum focuses on navies and military use of the sea.
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, most museums exhibit interesting pieces of ships (such as a figurehead or cannon), ship models, and miscellaneous small items 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 modeler's home; and of course 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 (ICMM), which coordinates members' efforts to acquire, preserve, and display their material.
At 40 acres, Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut can lay claim to the title of largest museum; it preserves not only a number of sailing ships, but also a large number of original seaport buildings, including a ship chandlery, sail loft, ropewalk, and so forth. 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.
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.
Notable maritime museums:
- Australian National Maritime Museum
- Mariners' Museum (US)
- Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (Halifax)
- Maritime Museum of San Diego
- Mystic Seaport (US)
- National Maritime Museum (UK)
- San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
- Vasa Museum (Stockholm)
- Coral World (St. Thomas, Virgin Islands)
- Wisconsin Maritime Museum, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
- Robert H. Smith, Smith's Guide to Maritime Museums of North America, 3 vols. (1stBooks Library, 2002) ISBN 0759690448, ISBN 0759691444, ISBN 0759691290
- Joseph Stanford, Sea History's Guide to American and Canadian Maritime Museums (National Maritime Historical Society, 1990) ISBN 0930248031