U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
For over two hundred years, the United States relied on ships as connective links of a nation. Vessels crossing the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific Oceans, and our inland waters made fundamental contributions to colonial settlement, development of trade, exploration, national defense, and territorial expansion. Unfortunately, we have lost much of this maritime tradition, and most historic vessels have gone to watery graves or have been scrapped by shipbreakers. Many vessels, once renowned or common, now can only be appreciated in print, on film, on canvas, or in museums.
To recognize those cultural resources important in America's past and to encourage their preservation, Congress expanded the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Among the ranks of properties listed in the National Register are vessels, as well as buildings and structures, such as canals, drydocks, shipyards, and lighthouses that survive to document the Nation's maritime heritage. Yet to date, the National Register has not been fully utilized for listing maritime resources, particularly historic vessels.
The National Register of Historic Places is an important tool for maritime preservation. Utilizing uniform National Register criteria to evaluate significance and integrity is an important first step in planning for the preservation of historic vessels. The National Register is the best means of defining categories and establishing priorities for significance of historic vessels in the United States. Listing provides an incentive for maritime preservation by recognizing resources as worthy of preservation. Finally- listing affords a measure of protection from Federal undertakings and can be a source of funding when monies are available.
This bulletin is intended to guide Federal Preservation Officers, State Historic Preservation Officers, certified local governments, maritime preservation professionals, and concerned citizens in identifying, evaluating, and nominating historic vessels and shipwrecks to the National Register of Historic Places. General instructions for preparation of nominations are available in National Register Bulletin: Guidelines for Completing National Register of Historic Places Forms. Particular emphasis has been placed here on the preparation of National Register nomination forms for vessels. For the purposes of the National Register a historic vessel is any craft built to navigate a waterway (oceans, lakes, rivers, canals), regardless of type of construction or motive of power employed, which meets the National Register criteria for evaluation. Because of the special nature of nominations for shipwreck sites, this bulletin is divided into two sections: Section 1 discusses the evaluation and nomination of maritime resources emphasizing historic vessels. Section 2 exclusively focuses on the specialized documentation requirements for shipwreck nominations.
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