Keeping A Ship Log: How and Why?

What is the purpose of a ship log and is it required

Are you keeping a log each time you're out on the water? Ships logs are required if you're piloting a vessel over 25 GRT (Gross register tonnage) and most of us are probably tooling around on something significantly smaller but it's still a wise decision to keep a log.

How do you start a ship log and why would you keep one? We'll walk you through what should be recorded and the benefits of keeping records. It might seem boring, but for a personal log, it can become a great tool for holding onto memories of your favorite adventures on the water.

How to Start a Ship Log

Keeping a ship log can be as simple or complicated as you care to make it, but I will say that the more information you can include the better. It's perfectly fine to treat your ship log as a journal, but there is a wide range of other more practical information that you should include before anything else.

Start by annotating the trip with the time and date of departure, intended destination, and the number of passengers on board.

It would also behoove you to include the weather conditions, engine hours, and fuel. Once you've noted all the pertinent information you can add a blurb about anything else you like.

I've been known to slap pictures into the log. My spouse finds this unprofessional, but it's my log and I keep what I want. I've been known to pull out ship logs at family gatherings in order to share the adventure precisely as it happened.

Keeping A Ship Log: How and Why? bad weather

Essential Entries

While thoughts and emotions are a great thing to record for posterity, there are a number of things that absolutely need to be recorded for future reference. Course alterations should always be recorded. If the only person in the know has an accident then recording course changes is important to enable someone else to easily take over.

Boat maintenance is another extremely important record to keep. Record what service was performed, the date, and any considerations you'll need to make in order to keep your boat engine performing at it's peak capability. If you notice anything on the boat showing signs of wear and tear, make a note of it. You might also want to include any special tools that might need to be requisitioned in order to make repairs yourself.

You might also want to keep track of maintenance outside of the engine. Do you remember the last time you lubricated your zippers and snaps? Zipper and snap lubricant is a fine thing to record!

Equipment information is another good thing to make a note of. Expiration dates of certain items like fire extinguishers, flares, first aid consumables, and the zinc tabs on your vessel's underside should all be recorded somewhere as an easy reference. I tend to record all of this on the inside cover so it can be checked easily and without digging through all of the log entries.

Keeping A Ship Log: How and Why? first aid pills

This is somewhat related to equipment information, but it bears mentioning that fuel consumption is a critical component of a ship log. You referenced the fuel you started with in the initial entry, but that will quickly become a useless number if you aren't keeping track of the fuel used or added.

The last crucial entry I would suggest making is a cleaning schedule. There is no shortage of things to clean on a boat with salt corrosion thanks to the constant salt spray of the ocean, but certain elements like wood and sails will need to be cleaned regularly in order to be kept in proper working condition. Clean and brighten all those teak elements on your vessel with boat teak cleaner!

Extraneous Entries

I often mark my so-called 'fluff entries' with a star. This lets it easily be skipped in an emergency, or easily found during a retelling of our adventures. While my co-captain would have the entire ship log be a dispassionate list of fuel consumption and repairs, my extraneous entries have proven their worth time and time again. Something as simple as 'went swimming here' has allowed us to retrace our steps and hunt down our swim ladder after we forgot to take it back up.

Have you ever wondered where that amazing fishing spot you were at last week was located? Well, it's a mystery no longer! My hope is that someday my kids might like to retrace the steps of their parents and hit some of our old stomping grounds. There are plenty of landmarks that probably have different names than what we've coined them, but it's always nice to feel privy to some inside knowledge.

Keeping A Ship Log: How and Why? fishing pole

Of course my kids might end up not liking boats and dumping the logs into a giant bonfire, but it still feels worth the effort and manages to give me something to do on long voyages.

Replacing A Ship's Log

Depending how much of a writer or boater you are, there will come a time that your logbook will become filled to the brim and you'll need to replace your ship's log. Some people choose to replace the log annually, but that simply comes down to personal preference. Regardless of what you choose, it's a relatively simple matter to implement a new ship log. Record all of the pertinent information that you can glean from that previous log and into the new one.

What do you do with the old ship's log? Well that aforementioned bonfire is an option, though not a popular one. Storage space is quite limited onboard a boat so if you live aboard then there might not be much choice in pitching your old log, but if you're lucky enough to have a storage space somewhere on land then file them safely away for future reference either by you or your progeny!