The museum is operated by a non-profit charity founded in 2003 by members of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association. In September 2005, its first location opened on the ground floor of Murray House in Stanley. The picturesque Murray House is a reconstructed 19th-century colonial building overlooking Stanley Bay. In the 1980s, it was dismantled at its original location in Central and rebuilt piece by piece on the Stanley waterfront.
However, space was tight in the Murray House museum, which only had two galleries. Between 2005 and 2011, the museum attracted about 35,000 visitors per year. A bigger, more accessible location had to be found; otherwise, the museum faced being closed down.
Following negotiations with the Hong Kong government, the museum was able to place a successful bid for the renovation of Central Pier 8. At the time, the building was a ferry terminal servicing Hung Hom, with unused spaces occupied by restaurants and kiosks.
The relocation to the spacious Pier 8 site was completed in 2013, occupying a prime spot on the Central Harbor Waterfront overlooking Victoria Harbor. The ferry pier was transformed into a modern, glass-encased museum containing 13 permanent galleries and two special exhibit galleries. The interiors were designed to resemble a ship deck.
Currently, the museum has over 1,200 objects (including maps, ceramics, nautical instruments, models, and more) on display, and another 2,800 objects in storage. The galleries are divided into themes, covering the maritime traditions of ancient Chinese civilizations, up to the development of Hong Kong’s harbor. In addition to being a museum, it’s also a research center that contains a library, learning center and lecture hall dedicated to maritime research.