Museum and Memorial Ship Core Values

By Richard Pekelney

Below are some the core values that I have seen successful in the historic ship community. I do not know of any ship that embodies all of these all the time, but like a collections management plan, a statement of core values can be very helpful in steering any organization.

Core Values:

* Our organization is both a museum and a memorial. We embrace both missions and have seen how success in one supports the other. As a museum we collect, research and interpret objects. Another way to say this is that we are dedicated to preservation, research and education. All three elements are needed for long term success. As a memorial we honor our veterans through an accurate depiction of their time in service.

* We do not have staff vs. volunteers vs. veterans, just crew, all should be held to the same high standards and motivated by a shared vision.

* We have learned how an historically accurate ship speaks for itself in a way that most interpretive tools cannot. We have learned how non-historic changes have nearly always led to lower safety and greater cost later. It is remarkable how few non-historic changes have been necessary: visitor access safety gear, visitor proofing for safety and security, shore utility connections and power systems, sealed flood ports and sea chests, etc. It is equally remarkable how many regrettable changes have been made and how much it has cost us to restore these well meaning mistakes. We should consider every alternative before using a drill, saw or cutting torch. We make changes obviously different, mark their material indelibly and document them carefully.

* We collect to provide the raw materials necessary to restore and maintain systems on the ship, to preserve and to interpret the history of the crews and technology of ship. We follow our formal collections management plan.

* We accrue every year for drydock. Periodic crisis fundraising does not provide a timely drydock schedule necessary for long term preservation. An endowment is an even better way to achieve this if it can be secured.

* It is our goal to make the ship as complete, and as accurate as possible. We have chosen a restoration target date in accordance with the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Historic preservation (repeated below). Most often we interpret the differences from our target date rather than reverse them.

* We understand our priorities: first is always the safety of staff and visitors, followed by compliance with the law, preservation (safety of our artifacts, the boat is our primary artifact), protection of the environment, and finally the achievement of our other goals, financial, educational, memorial, restoration, fun, etc.

* We strongly believe in the financial, memorial and educational missions as well as preservation and restoration. We have learned that we are most successful when we strive to achieve in each of these missions in a balanced way. Tim Rizzuto has written, "Running an historic ship requires the combined views of a marine surveyor with the attendant shipyard skills, a scholarly museum curator with a careful approach to conservation, and the promoter's attitude of running a successful theme park, fearful in the knowledge that if the public isn't satisfied, there is no one else to pay the bills. Trained professionals from each of these fields--the marine surveyor, the museum curator, and the promoter--bring conflicting views to historic ship preservation. Yet each also brings an element essential to the success of any memorial, and disregarding any one of the three will probably result in ultimate failure." (

* We strive for long term (100 years+) success and understand the need for success in short term to achieve long term goals. We wish never to fall behind, and when possible to move ahead slowly.

* We recognize our legal and moral obligations to maintain continuity of both artifacts and knowledge to the next generation of caretakers. We must document all that we learn and all that we do for future generations. We must teach our successors so they may benefit from our experience and preserve the skills needed to preserve, interpret and research our ship.

* We follow the ethical principles of the ICOM Statues and Code of Professional Ethics for all crew.

* Often idle equipment frequently deteriorates faster than operating equipment. No system can be assured complete until it has been operated at least once. Many safety problems are found and corrected during the restoration of equipment. Operating equipment inspires respect and care not offered inoperable equipment. Skills are preserved with the artifact with operating equipment. Documentation is collected/created. Endangered resources (knowledge and equipment) are preserved. However, when long term operation is not sustainable or otherwise inappropriate, equipment is brought to operable state and then properly laid up. Operation of equipment also has responsibilities to insure safety, perform preventative maintenance and to avoid inappropriate consumptive use. Equipment can only be operated by qualified crew with approved procedures.

* We understand the value of our membership in the larger historic naval ships community. We share both our successes and our failures in an open way to raise the level of success in the entire community.

* We share a strong agreement with the guiding principles of the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Historic preservation. ( The general standards are so important they are repeated here:

1. A historic vessel shall be put to a use, either continuing or new, that requires minimal change to its historic qualities and appearance.

2. The defining characteristics of a vessel shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a vessel shall be avoided.

3. Each vessel shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other vessels, shall not be undertaken.

4. Most vessels change over time; those changes that have acquired historical significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.

5. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a vessel shall be preserved.

6. All vessels shall be subject to a program of preventive maintenance. Deteriorated historic features and their materials shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires removal of a distinctive feature, the replacement shall match in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities; and, where possible, material. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by historical, physical, or pictorial evidence.

7. Every reasonable effort shall be made to protect and preserve physical evidence of features previously removed, replaced, altered, or otherwise affected in the course of a vessel's history.

8. Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of vessels, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.

* The Parks Canada system has a succinct way of expressing their core values. It is called "commemorative integrity" and refers to the health or wholeness of a site. A ship is considered to possess commemorative integrity when:

A: the reasons for the ship's historic significance are effectively communicated to the public

B: the resources that symbolize or represent its importance are not impaired or under threat

C: the ship's heritage values are respected by all whose decisions or actions affect the site


Buck, R.A., Gilmore, J.A. (1998) The New Museum Registration Methods, American Association of Museums, Washington, DC.

Fuller, G. (1993) A Curatorial Handbook for Historic Naval Vessels, Historic Naval Ships Association.

International Council of Museums (1996) ICOM Statues and Code of Professional Ethics.

Malaro, M.C. (1985) A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections, Smithsonian Institution Press.

U. S. Department of the Interior, NPS National Maritime Initiative (1990) Standards For Historic Vessel Preservation Projects -

Parks Canada -

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