The Philippine Merchant Marine Academy, originally named Escuela Nautica de Manila, is one of the oldest institutions in the Philippines. It was created by virtue of a Spanish Royal Decree issued on January 1, 1820 through the recommendation of the Spanish Consulate of Commerce. It was inaugurated on April 5, 1820 in its initial location at Intramuros, Manila.

Founded as a school for merchant marine officers, it opened classes in a building at Calle Cabildo inside the Walled City of Intramuros for some time until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1863. Since then, it was moved several times to different locations – to Calle San Juan de Letran, to Calle Palacio in 1884 and to Binondo in 1898.

Before the end of the Spanish Rule, the school was placed under the civil government. Its most distinguished alumnus at that time was Captain Pascual Ledesma who led several Filipino Officers of the Spanish Royal Navy to join the Philippine Revolution under General Emilio Aguinaldo. For his feat, he was given a rank of General and made the first Commander of the Philippine Navy.

The school was temporarily closed during the Philippine Revolution. Recognizing the value and merit of the nautical school, the American authorities reopened it on December 15, 1899 and renamed it Nautical School of the Philippine Islands.

Then the school was moved to a US Navy warehouse in Calle Sta. Elena in San Nicolas. Staffed with four Americans and one Filipino, the medium of instruction was English. The Americans made immediate provisions for a vigorous administration and started the construction of a bigger building to accommodate an average enrollment of 150 cadets. All facilities, equipment, and other instructional materials were also provided by the government in an effort to raise the standard of the institution.

Later the school was renamed Philippine Nautical School (PNS), which resumed classes on June 30, 1900. PNS was classified as an insular school and was headed by US Navy commanders until it was closed in 1907 for lack of support.

In 1913, Don Ramon Fernandez, President of the Ship owner’s Association during the time recommended the reopening of the school to answer the urgent need for trained merchant marine officers. It was established as a unit of the Philippine School of Arts and Trades which was located at Aroceros St., Manila, and then later moved to Roberts St., Pasay City.

Some years before the outbreak of the World War II, the school was headed by Francisco Castañeda, an experienced Master Mariner. He held the distinction of being the first Filipino Superintendent of PNS. Later, Lt. Andrada, a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis joined the school and became its first Filipino Executive Officer. The Nautical Course consisted of a two-year residency program at PNS and two-year apprenticeship at sea, in any order. With war clouds hovering the Pacific, supervision of the PNS was transferred from the Department of Education to the Department of National Defense.

During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Forces did not close the PNS but rather, it was expanded into a bigger establishment that included not only training of nautical officers but also of marine engineers and ordinary seamen. This alone showed how every government realized the importance of a nautical school.

After the liberation and the early days of the Republic of the Philippines, the school was revived but still under the Department of National Defense. Captain Castañeda likewise reassumed his position as Superintendent of the PNS. It was also at this period when the nautical school was converted to a two-year residential college due to an acute need for Filipino merchant marine officer to replace their American counterparts. This condition lasted until the 1950’s. Due to lack of facilities, residency requirements were also waived so that cadets were allowed to live off-campus. Aggravating this situation was the lack of legislative support, and worst, the PNS was placed under the Vocational Division of the Bureau of Public Schools instead of the Bureau of Higher Education. This resulted in the deterioration of the school’s standard of maritime education and training, giving opportunities for private schools to flourish as business enterprises.

In 1963, Republic Act 3680 converted the Philippine Nautical School into the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), conferring the degree of Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation (BSMT) major in Navigation and Seamanship or in Steam Engineering and Electricity, and automatically granting the Third Mate and Fourth Marine Engineer licenses without Professional Regulation Commission Examination to its graduates. In line with this development, the residency requirements were restored thus cadets were required to live in-campus during their first, second and fourth year at the PMMA. The third year was programmed for their planned, supervised sea project-correspondence oriented apprenticeship shipboard training.

The school was relocated at Fort Bonifacio, Makati City in 1968. From then on, it was placed under the Department of Transportation and Communications. In 1997 it was placed directly under the supervision of the Commission on Higher Education.

After thirty-one years of stay at Fort Bonifacio, PMMA was transferred to a 602,292 square meters lot at Naval Station in San Narciso, Zambales on February 2, 1998 pursuant to Proclamation No. 937, dated December 16, 1996 by former President Fidel V. Ramos. It was inaugurated on May 25, 1998, in the year of the Centennial Anniversary of Philippine Independence (1898-1998).