14 July 2022 — New Changes to the Maritime Heritage Grant Program Might Limit Access to Funding

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. A separate application will have to be submitted under the umbrellas of Education and of Preservation. The 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, called prime grantees, are then responsible for awarding that funding to applicant programs in their states and administering those subgrants through completion. The SHPOs/THPOs may also fund eligible in-house projects. This was not permitted in the previous five rounds of grants.

Funding from National Maritime Heritage Grants provides vital support for preserving our maritime heritage assets. The Mariners' Museum was able to acquire a specialized dry ice abrasion system to clean the Monitor's large wrought iron artifacts. Photo courtesy The Mariners' Museum and Park.

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. 


National Maritime Heritage grants provide funding not just for vital historic ship preservation, but also for educational programs that connect people with their maritime heritage as well as their contemporary coastline culture. The organization SoundWaters received a grant in 2016 to support maritime history sails on Long Island Sound, to deepen understanding of the role of Long Island Sound in the area’s history, the significance of oyster fisheries, and the role of the sharpie schooner on the Sound. Photo courtesy SoundWaters.

What will be the practical result of this change?

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. Some SHPOs probably won’t even apply, however, because they don’t have the staffing to field the competitive bidding process and administer the grant through to completion. Programs in those states will have been excluded from the grant money entirely; some programs have already approached their SHPOs, only to learn that their state will not be applying to the program, and they are frustrated to learn that the pathway to such a valuable funding resource has been cut off. A representative from one such maritime heritage organization, when told that their state would likely pass on the application process, said that “… it will leave those of us who worked so hard to get the money reinstated without a chance to compete. It's a scandal.” One SHPO expressed concern that “small organizations, particularly those in states that do not have an extensive history tied to maritime contexts, seem to have new obstacles to overcome in both convincing overburdened SHPO staffs to apply to NPS (if the SHPO is not inclined to do so), and in the SHPO then providing a compelling enough project to be selected for funding over SHPOs that will apply with multiple and/or high-profile projects in mind.”

Project Liberty Ship utilized grant funding to refinish the steel superstructure of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown in order to stabilize and preserve the ship from ongoing rust. Photo courtesy Joe Flood on Flickr.

The Maritime Heritage Grant Program was created in 1994 with the passage of the National Maritime Heritage Act; NPS administers it in partnership with the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to provide matching grant funding for “education and preservation projects designed to preserve historic maritime resources and to increase public awareness and appreciation for the maritime heritage of the United States.” Program funding comes from a portion of the proceeds from the sale or scrapping of obsolete National Defense Reserve Fleet vessels. Longtime readers of Sea History will be well familiar with the ongoing struggle to ensure that this money is made available to the many worthy maritime programs in the US. On our website, you can follow new developments in this story from the page dedicated to the National Maritime Alliance, a focus for advocacy on this subject. 

What can I do to help?

The strongest way to make your voice heard is to write to your local congressional representative or senator. Visit our website and go to www.seahistory.org/national-maritime-alliance for guidance on identifying your representatives in Washington, and sample letters. Let them know that this matching grant funding is vital to preserving historical assets and our maritime heritage programs in every state.


Sea History Today is written by Shelley Reid, NMHS senior staff writer. Past issues can be read online by clicking here.

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