The registration of shipping in this country was first introduced by an Act of 1660 but was confined to foreign-built ships. A further Act of 1696 provided for the Registration of all plantation and British-built ships. General registration was introduced in 1786 after the loss of the American Colonies, and covered those vessels 'having a deck or being of burthen of 30 tons or upwards'. Ships were to be registered at the port to which they belonged and the Maldon registers date from the introduction of this Act.
Registration involved measuring a vessel in a prescribed way followed by the issue of a certificate to the owner to be carried on board ship, the information contained in it to be entered in the Register of the home port and then a further copy sent to London for entry in the customs house register there. Subsequent legislation includes the 'New Measure Act' 1835 (5 & 6 WIV c.56) which aimed at securing a more realistic tonnage figure based on the length of the ship and measurements conforming more to the shape of the vessel.
The shipping registers of the ports of Colchester and Harwich have been deposited with the Branch Archivist, Essex Record Record Office, Colchester and North East Essex Branch, Stanwell House, Stanwell Street, Colchester, and are catalogued as A/SR 3 and A/SR 2 respectively.