The Merchant Navy Welfare Board was established in 1948, although its predecessors date back to 1927. Membership of its Council came from the ship owners, seafarers' trade unions, nautical charities and Government. Originally, funding was provided by the Government via levies on British ship owners employing the many non-domiciled seamen. The Board also inherited a number of hostels and clubs from the Seamen's Welfare Board which were refurbished. Port Welfare Committees were also transferred and most charities caring for merchant seafarers and fishermen, became Constituent Members.

Changes in merchant shipping from the 1970s onwards had a major impact on the hotels. Over a comparatively short period, all but the London hotel became redundant, whilst the clubs were transferred to the seafarers' 'missions'. Government support and direct involvement was also withdrawn. Fortuitously the sale of the hotels provided working capital that was invested to provide the main income source for the Board's continuing work. In 2002, the Board took the view that the London Hotel was no longer serving its original purpose and was sold for redevelopment. The capital raised was invested to increase the Board's income to provide greater levels of support to its Constituent Members. This includes funding of working groups, evaluation studies, training, casework support and capital grants.

Today the Board has around 40 members subscribing to its Constitution. There are also fifteen Port Welfare Committees (PWCs) within the UK and another in Gibraltar. The PWCs are strategic partnerships dealing with local seafarers welfare needs, projects and grant funding in and around UK ports and Gibraltar. Membership is open to all organisations directly concerned with the welfare of seafarers.

The Board has, for over 60 years, been a forum where those whose interest is the welfare of seafarers can work harmoniously together. This work continues to evolve recognising the changes that affect both serving and retired seafarers. It welcomes the challenges and is committed to continuing its valuable work.
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