Logbook (1828)

American Maritime Documents 1776-1860

Stein, Douglas L. 1992

A ship’s Logbook, as opposed to a journal or diary, was the official record of a voyage. While a journal could be kept by any crew member, the Logbook was most often kept by the mate, or first officer. It was the official record of the ship’s voyage.

Logbooks recorded information that was of concern to the ship: speed, distance, course, wind, weather; and any events which may have had consequence on the voyage. Information was often collected on watch by the mate in charge, and the data recorded on the log slate or chalk board a the end of the “day” (a sea day being 12 noon to 12 noon). The first mate showed the information on the log slate to the master for any corrections or additions, after which he transcribed the data into the Logbook. The mate, in the process of transcription, was to note the master’s changes, if any. Should damage occur to the ship or cargo during the voyage, the Logbook would contain an accurate description of the events leading to the loss. The information would be of great value to the owners and to insurers when determining liabilities and settlements. Logbooks could also provide substantial evidence for any legal proceedings brought against the owners, officers, or crew members. However, despite the legal implications, Logbooks were rarely kept as meticulously during the first half of the 19th century as was outlined in such contemporary guides as the Shipmaster’s Assistant.

While there was no standard format for a ship’s Logbook, the example illustrated here was frequently used during the early 1800s. The titles of the various printed columns provided an accurate indication of the kinds of information recorded in these volumes.