Leith Navigation School was founded in 1855 after the passing of the Merchant Shipping Act under the auspices of the board of Trade Department of Science and Art. The School provided proper instruction of navigation leading to Master and Mates examinations and certificates, and in 1861 was allowed to take in boys over 10 years old. In 1885 a Royal Endowed Schools Commission revised all funds for Scottish education and the Bell's Trust Fund was given to schools in Leith, a large amount going to the College.
A new building was opened in 1903 in Leith and the name was changed to Leith Nautical College. By this point, classes were also offered in Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture and over time in wireless telegraphy, classes to fishermen, deck boy's courses and catering, radar and electronics. The boys' courses were taught on Training Ship Dolphin, a former war ship that was located in Leith dock. In 1978 the College moved to new premises in Dalkeith which is now part of Edinburgh College. In 1983 the Scottish Education Department reviewed Nautical Education in Scotland and a decision was made to merge the College with Glasgow College of Nautical Studies and it closed in 1987.
The student records for the College were transferred to Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, now City of Glasgow College. The collection includes annual reports and minute books, some records relating to students and Training Ship Dolphin and student photographs. Records containing sensitive personal information are closed for 75 years under the 1998 Data Protection Act.