National Maritime Alliance

Advocating for the Maritime Heritage Community

Maritime commerce was crucial to the founding and early prosperity of the United States. Sailing ships, aids to navigation, waterside facilities, canals, and protection provided by the US Navy were all instrumental in the rapid growth of the nation.

Sailing ships gave way to steam vessels, and later container ships, and transportation adapted to a network of planes, trains and trucks. As the earlier nautical way of life diminished, so did many traditional skills, historic vessels, and waterfront buildings.

In the summer of 1987, a new organization was proposed: an alliance of all who value the traditions of American seafaring, an alliance of those who would work together for the common good.  Formally organized in 1988, the National Maritime Alliance—a non-profit organization with membership available to all—represents nearly 1,000 organizations and is chaired by National Maritime Historical Society trustee and professor at East Carolina University Dr. Timothy J. Runyan.

Star Of India LR

The Maritime Museum Association of San Diego was awarded a National Maritime Heritage Grant for the preservation of the 1863 iron-hulled sailing ship Star of India.

National Maritime Alliance Logo 300x300The Alliance comprises a diverse group including maritime museums, historic ships, lighthouses, canals, boatyards, boatbuilding and sailing schools, tall ships for sail training, historic naval ships, historic preservation groups, marine unions and businesses, and individuals. These organizations and persons all celebrate aspects of a common tradition. Together, they are the custodians of a maritime heritage that is as diverse as America itself.


Maritime Heritage Conferences

In order to bring together all elements of the maritime heritage community and to discuss topics of common interest, the National Maritime Alliance organizes Maritime Heritage Conferences, held every three or four years and typically attended by representatives from hundreds of organizations, including Tall Ships America, the National Maritime Historical Society, American Lighthouse Council, the Council of American Maritime Museums, Historic Naval Ships Association, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Coast Guard, the Naval Historical Foundation, Naval History and Heritage Command, the North American Society for Oceanic History, the Nautical Research Guild, the US Lighthouse Society, the National Lighthouse Foundation, the Steamship Historical Society of America, the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, Diving with a Purpose, the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History, and many others.

Critical Funding for Maritime Heritage Organizations

The National Maritime Alliance represents a broad range of institutions. It also represents, indirectly, thousands upon thousands of individuals in every corner of the United States who are members and supporters of these institutions. This puts the Alliance in the unique position of having a significant measure of influence—a measure that could not be matched by its members acting individually—as it works to bring about changes in public policy that will enhance individual and collective efforts.  As such, the Alliance is committed to helping this country’s maritime artifacts, projects, and programs that have traditionally been underfunded. It coordinated a national effort, resulting in the passage of federal legislation for assistance to the maritime heritage field. The National Maritime Heritage Act of 1994 is designed to provide an ongoing national competitive grants program for worthy maritime projects.  Advocacy efforts have secured millions of dollars in funding for the program—the Archaeologyonly federal grant program directed to the maritime heritage community.

From 1998 to date, the National Maritime Heritage Grants Program has yielded nearly $10 million in awards to 179 organizations. (See the full list of grants from the most recent grant cycle.)  Among grant recipients, the National Maritime Historical Society was awarded a $50,000 grant for the indexing, digitizing, and online expansion of Sea History magazine (including a new Sea History for Kids section) as well as, most recently, a $50,000 grant for the Society’s 8,000-volume maritime library and digital collections project. Read the full grant award announcement here.  In the past, grant cycles have typically opened in late May, with applications due in August. Education projects can usually request $15,000–50,000 and preservation projects can request $50,000–200,000. Funding for Maritime Heritage Grants is competitive and requires a 1-to-1 match with non-federal assets from non-federal sources.


Get Involved!  Advocate on Behalf of Your Organization and the Entire Maritime Heritage Community

Your advocacy efforts are critical in securing funding for the maritime heritage community. 

The National Maritime Alliance is pushing to get a new federal appropriation of $10 million for the Maritime Heritage Grant Program. Our lead advocates are US Representative Brian Higgins of New York and Representative Greg Murphy of North Carolina in a bipartisan appeal to Congress to include this funding in the current fiscal year authorization and appropriations bills for the Department of Transportation.  This funding is crucial for the maritime heritage community.  Historic ships such as USS Olympia, Star of India, fishing schooner LA Dunton, Bugeye Edna Lockwood, and the Liberty ship John W. Brown are just a few examples of the many important vessels from coast to coast that have received vital funding. And the support doesn’t just go to ships—maritime museums, lighthouses, libraries, websites, digitizing projects and more have all been funded through this program.

Especially now we need to increase awareness that saving our maritime heritage is a mandate for our society and that funding must be a part of the federal budget. To convince our representatives in Washington, we need to increase our advocacy efforts and for that, we need your help!  Our request for $10 million was made to members of the House and Senate. They need to hear from constituents that this is a worthy use of federal dollars.  Join us in this effort by writing to your members of Congress!  Customize the sample advocacy letter below with specifics on your district/state, maritime organization/interest, and Representative/Senator contact information.

 Sample Advocacy Letter Urging Increased Funding >>

Reach out to your representatives! New changes to the Maritime Heritage Grant Program are expected to drastically reduce access to funding.

As Sea History Today recently reported,

A bureaucratic change in the way the National Maritime Heritage Grant program is administered this fiscal year will have a serious impact on organizations that had been planning on applying for these funds.  Instead of accepting applications for individual grants from museums, historic ships, lighthouses, or similar maritime nonprofits, the National Park Service will only accept applications from State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs) and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs). There are 59 State Historic Preservation Offices; one in each of the 50 states, the 5 territories, the District of Columbia, and the 3 Freely Associated States of Micronesia. NPS expects to award five grants with a ceiling of $750,000 for Education and five for Preservation, or both—a maximum of ten, and perhaps fewer. The recipient SHPOs/THPOs are then responsible for awarding that funding to applicant programs in their states and administering those subgrants through completion.

In a best-case scenario, all 59 SHPOs would apply for both Education and Preservation grant funds, and grants would be awarded to 10 of those entities, leaving 49 states/territories automatically ineligible for Maritime Heritage Grant monies for this fiscal year.  Programs in those states will have been excluded from the grant money entirely.  Organizations planning on applying for Maritime Heritage Grant funds are advised to familiarize themselves with the new process and consult with their SHPO or THPO immediately about procedures and possible necessary pre-application measures. The deadline for State Historic Preservation Officers to submit proposals to NPS is 20 September 2022.

What can you do to help?  The strongest way to make your voice heard is to write to your local congressional Representative or Senator. Let them know that this matching grant funding is vital to preserving historical assets and our maritime heritage programs in every state.

Sample Advocacy Letter Urging Changes to Awards Process >>

Customize the sample advocacy letter with specifics on your district/state, maritime organization/interest, and Representative/Senator contact information.  Not sure where to send your letter?  Find your US Representative and Find your US Senator with these helpful links.  Please send a copy of your correspondence to Dr. Timothy Runyan, National Maritime Alliance, via email at  Thank you!

For additional information and to learn more about how you can advocate with the National Maritime Alliance for funding the maritime heritage community, please email

Port Discovery Baltimore Children's Museum LR

National Maritime Heritage Grant recipient Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore, MD.

NMH Grant Recipient Mystic Seaport's Fishing Schooner L.A. DUNTON

National Maritime Heritage Grant recipient Mystic Seaport's fishing schooner L.A. Dunton in Mystic, CT.

W.O. Decker

National Maritime Heritage Grant recipient South Street Seaport Museum in New York City is undertaking the preservation of the treasured 1930 tugboat W.O. Decker.

Split Rock Ligthouse 3

National Maritime Heritage Grant recipient Split Rock Lighthouse, southwest of Silver Bay, Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.