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Today's International ShipMasters Association traces its history to Buffalo, NY where the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association was formed in 1886, set up to provide financial assistance to the family of a deceased local captain. In addition to providing financial support to disabled members, or in case of death, to their beneficiaries, the organization provided educational opportunities for the improvement of navigational skill and allowed Great Lakes ship masters to have a voice in the formation of safety and navigation rules and regulations.

The association was soon embraced by most Great Lakes shipmasters, and other branches, or lodges, formed around the Lakes. The first convention was held in Buffalo in 1891 and the Grand Lodge was officially established. In 1893, at the third convention in Port Huron, Michigan, with nine lodges represented, the organizations's name was changed to Ship Masters' Association. A growing Canadian presence was reflected in another name change in 1917 to International ShipMasters Association.

While ISMA no longer has a benevolent fund, its purpose is still to unite shipmasters and promote safety of navigation.

The purpose of the Association shall be to unite all shipmasters and licensed merchant officers of good moral character; to elevate the character of its members; and to utilize their professional experience to promote safety on the Great Lakes and any navigable waters.
-ISMA Constitution
Since its beginnings, ISMA has enjoyed a respected and fruitful relationship with vessel company management and governmental bodies. ISMA functions as the representative of all Great Lakes mariners. Through meetings, committees, newsletters, and communication between members, ISMA informs and educates its members on issues of vital concern to mariners. And through ISMA, mariners of all levels have a collective voice when critical decisions on maritime affairs are made by government. ISMA plays a cooperative role with the Canadian and US Coast Guards and various other maritime organizations and associations.
Small shipwheel bullet Past ISMA Grand Lodge Presidents - from 1891 to Present
  • 1897 Grand Lodge History Pag 1897 Grand Lodge History Pag
  • Canadamarquis-Smisener Canadamarquis-Smisener
  • Capt. Melvin Edwards, May 1958 Capt. Melvin Edwards, May 1958
  • Captain On The Helm Captain On The Helm
  • Chacormac, Credit Munger Chacormac, Credit Munger
  • Cliffs-Victory 1970 Cliffs-Victory 1970
  • E B Barber, 8/28/71 E B Barber, 8/28/71
  • Erickson 1976 Erickson 1976
  • Ferson Ferson
  • Lodge 20 Plaque Lodge 20 Plaque
  • Marquette Bessemer Marquette Bessemer
  • Owen Sound, 1st Ship In, March 1943 Owen Sound, 1st Ship In, March 1943
  • Shipmaster 1907 Shipmaster 1907
  • Steamer Eber Ward Steamer Eber Ward
  • Sykes Sykes
  • Vorhees, E.M. 1972 Vorhees, E.M. 1972