At The Seafarers' Charity we’ve been improving the lives of seafarers and their families for more than 100 years, starting as the King George’s Fund for Sailors in 1917.

During the turbulent days of the First World War, thousands of lives were lost at sea – many of them young sailors – and the public wanted to support those who were fighting, as well as their dependants. To help direct their hard-earned funds, a central organisation was established: King George’s Fund for Sailors.

Before our official launch as King George’s Fund for Sailors, we saw immediate fundraising success, receiving £207k (over £6.2m today) in donations in our first year, and awarding £55k in grants to 58 maritime charities.

Our early fundraising activities sparked the interest of HM King George V, who was moved by the plight of so many seafarers maimed or lost at sea during the Great War. His support, including a donation of £5,200 in the first year, saw us become the King George’s Fund for Sailors on 5 July 1917.

In 2021, we adopted the working name The Seafarers' Charity, which today better reflects those we help. King George’s Fund for Sailors remains our registered charity name.

Our history timeline

1917

King George V, moved by the plight of so many seafarers, provided an establishing donation of £5,200 (equivalent to £251,873 in 2021) and saw us become the King George’s Fund for Sailors on 5 July.

1918

Their Majesties King George and Queen Mary celebrated their Silver Wedding and graciously donated the sum of £1,452, gifted by the Ladies’ Section of the Navy League, Durban, to the Fund.

1920

By the end of 1920, a total of £900,000 was raised by the charity, with £214,000 already allocated to more than 90 individual nautical institutions.

1928

In this ‘London Gazette’ announcement of 14 February 1928, The King honours the contribution made by the merchant service in peace and war by appointing a member of the Royal Family as its Head, as have the Armed Forces, and renaming the Mercantile Marine as ‘Merchant Navy’. HRH The Prince of Wales becomes the first Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets. The appointment has been held, since accession in 1952, by our late Patron, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

1928

On 12 December, HM Queen Mary unveils The Merchant Navy Memorial on London’s Tower Hill, now known as The Memorial’s First World War section. It commemorates The 12,000 civilian men and women of the Mercantile Marine and Fishing Fleets it commemorates range from a fishing boat’s Cook aged 13 to an Able Seaman of 75 from a cargo vessel.

1936

HM King George V, the charity’s first Patron, dies at Sandringham House, aged 70. He is succeeded as Patron later this year by the charity’s then President, who becomes King George VI.

1939

Germany invades Poland on 1 September and ignores Britain’s ultimatum to withdraw by 11am on 3 September. At 11.15am that day, Britain declares war on Germany and the Second World War begins.

Bound for Montreal from Glasgow, Liverpool and Belfast with 1,418 British, American and Canadian passengers onboard, the liner SS Athenia is torpedoed at 7.40pm, 200 miles northwest of Ireland, killing 112 and marking the start of the War’s first battle. Lasting until VE-Day, 8 May 1945, the Battle of the Atlantic is the longest continuous campaign of the War.

Facing its biggest challenge, the King George’s Fund for Sailors works hard to support existing beneficiaries, as well as meet an increase in demand for its services.

1940

Trinity House, the Fund’s headquarters and official address since 1917, is destroyed during the Blitz.

1952

HM Queen Elizabeth II accedes to the throne on 2 February 1952, at the same time becoming Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets. Prior to the Coronation on 2 June 1953, The Queen also becomes Patron of King George’s Fund for Sailors.

1955

HM The Queen unveils The Merchant Navy Memorial’s Second World War section on Tower Hill in London. With its First World War and Falklands Campaign sections, The Memorial commemorates 36,000 civilian men and women, aged between 13 and 74 of more than 100 nationalities who died in British service with the sea their grave. The Memorial bears more names than any other Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial in the UK.

1967

By the end of 1967, a total of £264,227 has been given in grants by the charity to individual nautical institutions.

1982

The South Atlantic Fund is formed to assist those injured in the Falklands conflict and
their widows and dependants, from which King George’s Fund for Sailors receives valued support for Falklands-related cases.

1990

A trust, holding nearly £3m, is set up for personnel affected by service in the Gulf War, including many members of the Royal Navy.

1997

The funds raised at the launch of the eighteenth James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies in London’s Leicester Square, go to King George's Fund for Sailors.

2004

An earthquake in the Indian Ocean causes a tsunami which leaves millions homeless and more than 230,000 dead. The Fund sets up an emergency fund to assist local fishermen in rebuilding their lives.

2005

King George’s Fund for Sailors adopts the working name, Seafarers UK, to better reflect the needs and diversity of those it helps.

2012

In collaboration with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, Seafarers UK launches the Merchant Navy Fund to exclusively support Merchant Navy seafarers.

2017

The charity celebrates its 100th anniversary with a range of commemorative events and a major conference to set a clear path for the future provision of charitable services to the maritime community.

2020

The coronavirus pandemic spreads internationally with devastating effects on the maritime community. Port closures, grounded flights and travel restrictions leave 400,000 seafarers stranded on board their ships. Seafarers UK launches the COVID-19 Emergency Fund to help support those affected by the pandemic.

2021

Seafarers UK takes on a new voyage as The Seafarers’ Charity. The new name better reflects our global outlook, and the inclusion of the word ‘charity’ makes what we do, clearer. We also reintroduced the use of ‘King George’s Fund for Sailors’ through a stamp, to celebrate our 104-year heritage.

2021

In collaboration with leading maritime welfare charities and shipping players, The Seafarers’ Charity launches the Seafarers International Relief Fund to provide emergency support to seafarers and their families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in India and the Philippines. In 2022, the Fund acted rapidly to begin providing support to seafarers and their families devastated by the crisis in Ukraine.

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Our impact

We've been supporting seafarers in need and their families for over 100 years. Although the world has changed in this time, we continue to provide essential support for seafarers.

Our impact

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