Users can choose either a simple or advanced search. The website is structured so that users can search on the port, the ship, the master, year or range of years, and voyage details.
Shipmasters can be searched for in multiple ways:
Nominal spellings are not standardised in this period (i.e. the surname 'Smith' might be spelled Smythe; Smithye; Smithe etc) so the website is designed to allow uses to search by letters. When searching for a master the database will search in both forename and surname. When entering letters in the 'master' search box it will automatically bring up any forenames and surnames that contain those letters. We can use Newcastle master Christopher Blaxston as an example. Typing in Blaxston (or 'ston' or 'blax') will bring up all forenames and surnames that contain those letters. As all forenames have been modernised, if you type in 'Christ' it will find Blaxton through his forename 'Christopher'.
You can search for ships the same way as masters. Some ship names have numerous variations. Trinity for example is recorded in over a dozen ways. If you type 'Trin' in the ship search box it will bring up all the ship names in which those letters appear and at the side of each name variant in brackets is recorded the number of voyages made by ships with that name.
Year: searching by year is straightforward. If you are interested in ships sailing between 1564 and 1568 type 1564 in the 'year from' box and 1568 in the 'year to' box and it will bring up all the ship-voyages undertaken in that period. You can narrow the search down by selecting (in the Home Port box) an individual port to look at just the entries for that port within the range selected.
Ports: the spellings of all ports are modernised so you can type in the name of any port or coastal settlement to bring up all the records for ships sailing out of and into that port.
Once a search is selected and the 'retrieve voyage' tab is clicked a series of further search options can be chosen through tick boxes which will reduce or expand the search. Crew sizes are only recorded for those vessels in naval operations (and not all crew sizes were recorded by the clerks) and owners' names are not systemically recorded.
Ship type: in most cases the clerks compiling naval and customs records did not record the types of ships. In some instances however they do note if the ships was a barge or crayer. If a ship type was given in the source this has been recorded.
Voyage details: these have been modernised, although in some cases (especially for some overseas ports) it is difficult to locate some ports. There are also instances in the records where the clerks might simply record the country the ship sailed to. So in voyage details you can look for a specific port or country. In England there are ports with the same name, or they appear in the documents with the same name variant spellings. In cases such as this documentary context has led to the identification of the ports. For example, Great Yarmouth is usually recorded as 'Yarmouth' (or Jernemuth etc) in the sources, but when inputting data from a Southampton Port Book that records coastal trade 'Yarmouth' could easily be Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. If it's a Southampton Port Book therefore Yarmouth is located as on the Isle of Wight.
The Advanced Search option allows you to be more selective. It has all the search boxes that are in the Simple Search option but allow you to search by region, county, voyage details, ship type and documentary reference.