Christmas at Sea

The Seamen's Church Institute invites you knit or crochet a garment to warm mariners’ hearts and heads this winter. If you need patterns, scroll to the bottom of this page. Want to know more? Keep reading.

Since 1898, during the Spanish American War, volunteers of the Seamen’s Church Institute have knitted, collected, packed, and distributed gifts to mariners who are miles away from home during the holidays. The gift consists of a handknit garment, a personal letter, and information on SCI’s services for mariners. In addition to this, SCI also includes several useful items like hand lotion, lip balm, and toothbrushes—things difficult to come by when working long stretches on the water.

Knitting groups around the country connect with SCI in weekly knitting meetings at churches and at knitting-sponsored events. Through sites like Ravelry and the Christmas at Sea Facebook Group, the Institute works with hundreds to make the program effective.

The historic name of this volunteer program, Christmas at Sea, only partially describes the work of the people who make holidays a little warmer for mariners. While gift distribution happens during winter months, collection and creation of items happens year round, and while many gifts go to international mariners working "at sea," thousands of gifts also go to mariners working on inland waterways here in the United States.

Participation Guidelines

Patterns published by SCI are designed to complement the work and safety gear seafarers and mariners wear on board their vessel (as well as look great when not in jumpsuits, safety vests and hard hats)! While we encourage you to follow our carefully-crafted patterns, as long as your knit meets our guideline standards, we don't mind if you have a preferred method of decreasing, want to incorporate a decorative pattern, or use your favorite cast-on. We evaluate each piece that is delivered to make sure it is appropriate.

Please feel free to work with the fiber that makes you happy and you have available. You may use wool, washable wool, wool blends, or acrylics - again knit with your preference! All are acceptable. If you are knitting with wool or something special like cashmere, we suggest that you attach a tag or note so that the recipient knows not to put it in the dryer. All SCI patterns provide a recommended yarn weight and gauge. (One caveat: fun fur is not really appropriate for this program!)

When choosing colors, remember most mariners are men, and their work environments can get dirty. We find that seafarers and mariners love bright colors as well as the more traditional color palette. Contrary to popular belief, bright colors do not pose a security threat. In fact, required safety gear is usually flourescent! Our only color stipulation is to avoid pastels, as those light delicate colors show too much dirt and grime. Save those hues for the babies!  You may add stripes to your projects, or use ombre, variegated, tweed, or flecked yarns.

We cannot accept hats and scarves with pom-poms, tassels, or fringe, however, as these embellishments present a safety hazard in maritime workplaces.

Send finished garments throughout the year to Christmas at Sea, The Seamen's Church Institute, 118 Export Street, Port Newark, NJ 07114. Please include your name and address within the package so we can acknowledge its receipt. Also, SCI encourages knitters to include a personal note or photograph.

Gift packing begins not long after Labor Day and continues right up until Christmas. While we receive donations January through December, it is most helpful to us to receive your donations in the fall.


As free downloads, SCI makes available all of its Christmas at Sea patterns for mariners’ garments. (Links below.)

SCI’s specially designed articles of clothing meet needs of mariners working on the water in extreme conditions, harmonize with their work environment (and unique work attire) and conform to safety standards for clothing worn on board.

The packages SCI delivers to mariners working at Christmastime typically include a scarf or a hat.

Ready to Mail?

Please send your finished handknits to:

The Seamen’s Church Institute
Christmas at Sea 
118 Export Street 
Port Newark, NJ 07114

Include your name, address and email or phone number so that we can acknowledge your gift. If you are sending on behalf of a knitting group, please include the group’s name and contact address as well.

Associated PDF: