Design Your Own Logbook

Over the years I have grown frustrated trying to make use of commercially published logbooks for the type of sailing I do, which, more often than not, takes place in familiar waters on weekends.

Many of these logbooks are designed to accommodate meticulous notations and navigation entries over an extended cruise. Some are modeled after a formal "Ship's Log", and would probably be more at home on the bridge of an oil tanker. Whatever the case, most of these books are ill suited for weekend sailors who usually rely on eyeball navigation, and who may be tempted to make the majority of their log entries at the beginning and end of their sailing day.

As a result of these shortcomings, sailors such as myself are rarely motivated to keep logs on a regular basis. This is unfortunate since maintaining an accurate logbook can be a rewarding exercise that can provide a valuable record of events.

If nothing else, an up to date logbook is good for reminiscing. The first squall my wife and I experienced when we were learning how to sail still makes for entertaining reading. More recently, our logbook has proven invaluable for recording those here-today, gone-tomorrow memories that come with watching our two children grow up while spending a good part of their summers onboard a sailboat.

Record Your Own Cruising Guide

Documenting valuable navigation information when exploring unfamiliar waters is probably the most useful aspect of maintaining a logbook. Observations on avoiding a shoal, lining up landmarks when entering a strange harbour, or where to find the best holding ground in an anchorage will be useful on any return trip to the area. There can be no denying that your own experiences, described in your own words, always seem superior and more comforting than the anonymous information found in a cruising guide.

A log can also play an important role in recording the facts and events surrounding an accident or other incident on the water. A casually maintained logbook may not have any legal standing by itself, but you will always be ahead of the game by writing a detailed description of what happened while the facts are still fresh in your mind. Trying to recall the circumstances of a stressful event from memory alone can often lead to inconsistent or a fragmented picture of what actually took place. Under such conditions, it is easy to see how your logbook's written record will enable you to provide a crediable account of events to the authorities or your insurance company.

Most sailors need an easy to use logbook which reflects the type of sailing they do. Since this varies from person to person, the solution lies in designing and producing a logbook which is custom tailored to your particular needs.

Design a layout for your logbook

The first step in such a project is to design a layout for recording entries in the logbook. It is a good idea to use a format where a new page will be used to make the entries for each sailing day. Each page should provide space for recording the date, time of departure, prevailing weather conditions, the direction and speed of the wind, and so on.

The layout design you decide on will be dictated by your imagination and the type of sailing you do. Some people may need a log with space to enter the compass headings and sail configurations at regular intervals when passage making. Others may want to keep track of the amount drinking water left in the tanks or record the state of their batteries. Space to register the names of crew members and guests may seem worthwhile, but some sailors may prefer a place to maintain a radio log. Entering information on the tides will likely be important for anyone sailing in coastal waters, while people on various lakes and rivers may find it useful to record fluctuating water levels.[A sample layout ready for printing with a web browser]

As a rule of thumb, avoid layout designs which are not relevant to the type of sailing you do, or which reserve spaces for entries that may only be made once or twice a year. For example, recording hourly barometer readings may not be appropriate for everybody, and it seems pointless to provide a place to write detailed pilotage information if most of your sailing is limited to weekend outings in local waters.

A Sample Logbook for Short Cruises

The sample logbook layout which accompanies this article is my effort to produce a design which is relevant to the type of sailing I do on the Ottawa River. It is clearly applicable for day sailing and weekend excursions, but it also has enough detail and flexibility to accommodate entries that might be made when out on a two or three week cruise during one's summer vacation. The space reserved for "Notes" could be used to record navigation information when on a passage, or to described the antics of children when out for an afternoon sail. (The name of your boat could be inserted in the space occupied by "Daily Log Entry".)

Once you have decided on your design, you will need a black felt pen and a ruler to put it all down on paper. An alternative is to produce a logbook design on a computer with a drawing program, word processors, or desk top publishing software. I produced my logbook design on a computer with a simple drawing program, and it took no time at all. You will obtain an excellent printout of your design with most ink jet or laser printers. (Note that many the output from ink jet printers is not waterproof, and should not be used to make the actual pages that will go into the logbook.)

The actual manufacturing of the logbook is really no problem in this age of the ubiquitous photocopier (and photocopying also overcomes the problem of non-waterproof output from many ink jet printers). I recommend that you photocopy only one side of the page, and that you use the thickest paper you can lay your hands on. Once the photocopies are cut to size, staple the pages together with a suitably thick cover, and presto - you have a logbook custom tailored to your needs.

A final consideration is that many commercial photocopy centres are equipped to bind such a booklet together with glue or a plastic ring binder (e.g. cerlox plastic binding). The plastic ring binder is probably the best choice since it will allow the pages of the logbook to lie flat, thus making it easier to write in your entries.

Text and graphics by Michael McGoldrick.
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