In Navy language, any kind of running record is called a "log." Many such logs are kept on board Navy ships. Most of these are not kept permanently. Deck logs from commissioned ships are the only logs sent to the Naval Historical Center to be kept as permanent records and, eventually, transferred to the National Archives.
Deck Logs: Ships that submit
Deck Logs: Purpose, and Content
Deck Logs: Location
Deck Logs: Format, Research and Duplication
What information is not found in deck logs
Deck Logs of MSC/MSTS ships
Merchant Ship logs
Only deck logs from commissioned Navy ships are permanently retained by the Naval Historical Center and the National Archives. A ship "in commission" is a Navy command in her own right; she has her own administrative identity, and originates records in her own name. Annual command histories, written under a program initiated by the Chief of Naval Operations in 1952, are included in the active records of the Naval Historical Center. Deck logs are also held by the Ships History Branch of the Naval Historical Center. After 30 years, Ships History Branch transfers the deck logs to the Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 [telephone (301) 713-7250].
Nearly all service craft are classified as "in service," rather than "in commission." They do not have their own administrative identity but are, in effect, floating vehicles operated by a parent command. Self-propelled service craft apparently keep a log of their movements for their parent command's administrative and legal purposes, but these are not sent to the Naval Historical Center and do not go into any permanent file.
A Navy ship's deck log is a daily chronology of certain events for administrative and legal purposes. Preparation of logs is governed by the current edition of Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Instruction 3100.7 (OPNAVINST 3100.7) series. This specifies the kinds of events to be entered:
A deck log identifies a ship's location and movements daily. If the ship is underway, its latitude and longitude are to be entered three times each day in blocks provided for the purpose. Deck logs are not narratives, and do not describe or explain a ship's operations.
Held by The National Archives
Deck logs of commissioned U.S. Navy ships from the earliest times through 1940 are in the Old Military and Civil Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20408 [telephone (202) 501-5385. Logs from 1941 through 1969 are in the Modern Military Branch, National Archives, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park MD 20740-6001 [telephone 301-837-3510]. These logs are open for research. Requests for research appointments, and inquiries concerning log information, should go to the National Archives office holding logs from the time period of interest.
Held By The Naval Historical Center
Deck logs from 1970 to the present are in the custody of the Ships Deck Logs Section, Naval Historical Center, Building 57, 805 Kidder Breese Street SE, Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060. All inquiries concerning research access to logs from 1968 and later years should be sent to the Ships Deck Logs Section.
Logs from 1970 through 1978 are held in paper form, stored in the Washington National Records Center, 4205 Suitland Road, Suitland MD 20746. Logs from 1979 through 1989 are on microfiche in the Ships Deck Logs Section. Logs from 1990 through 1993 are partly on microfiche in the Deck Logs Section, partly on paper at the Records Center. All logs from 1994 on are being retained on paper and stored at the Records Center. The logs that are classified must be sent to the proper authorities for declassification review before they can be researched or copied.
Format: Deck logs are bulky documents. Into the 1980s logs were kept on oversized (10 by 15 inches) paper, a typical log consisting of two or more pages per day. In the 1980s, in keeping with a Congressional mandate to standardize on 8½ by 11 inch paper, deck logs began to be written, by hand, on pages of that size. This greatly increased the page count; we have seen single months' logs from recent years run to as many as 300 or 400 pages.
Under the old format, a ship's deck log might run 60 pages or more per month, or over 700 pages per year. (There are the inevitable exceptions, but this seems to hold fairly true.) Under the new format, logs can run from 100 to 400 pages per month or, say, from 1,200 to several thousand pages per year.
Research in Deck Logs at the Ships History Branch
The Ships Deck Logs Section staff consists of two persons. Given the number of inquiries received, the staff cannot read hundreds of pages in response to any one inquiry. Thus the Ships Deck Logs Section is unable to do extensive research in response to queries. Questions must be specific, and must be narrowed down to a particular time and/or place.
If a requestor wishes to search a log, this can be done at the Naval Historical Center (microfiched logs) or at the Washington National Records Center (paper logs). To arrange this, write to the Ships Deck Logs Section, at the address given above, at least two weeks in advance. Specify the ship(s) and time periods (month/year to month/year) involved and the date of the proposed visit.
Duplication of Deck Logs
Researchers using logs at the National Archives, or at the Washington National Records Center, can arrange to have pages copied there at the time they do their research.
The Naval Historical Center has no in-house capacity to do extensive copying. Small numbers of microfiche can be duplicated, and limited numbers of paper log pages can be copied on an office copier which is also used for other work.
Orders for production copying are sent to the Defense Automated Printing Service (DAPS). DAPS is a Defense Business Operating Fund activity under 10 USC 2208. It is not budgeted, but must pay its own way by recovering the cost of all work it does. Thus, any order for copying sent to DAPS must be paid for in advance. The Naval Historical Center has no funds to do this; for this reason, requestors must cover the cost of copying. The Ships History Branch will provide price quotes upon request.
Shipyard Work; Individual Work Assignments; Events Occurring Elsewhere
When a ship is being overhauled at a shipyard, the deck log records the ship's presence at the shipyard, but does not identify the work being done or the materials being used. These logs do not record day-to-day work assignments of individual crew members. A deck log records events taking place on board the individual ship or, if pertinent, in its immediate vicinity. It does not include events taking place elsewhere, such as the activities of crew members on detached duty.
Deaths and Injuries
In cases of deaths and injuries suffered on board ship, the log should record the simple fact of the death or injury and note whether medical treatment was given to the injured. It does not go into detail as to specific treatment given, and does not record other medical matters, such as visits to sick bay or injuries not suffered on board ship.
The Naval Historical Center does not receive medical records of any kind. Individual medical records, as well as any existing medical logs from Navy ships, are sent to the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis MO 63132-5100. Under the records disposal schedule established by the Secretary of the Navy, in consultation with the National Archives, binnacle lists and morning reports of sick are not permanent records. They are kept until the information in them has been transcribed into the medical records of the persons involved, and are then disposed of.
Deck logs are not "Captain's Logs"
A deck log is not a daily diary written by the ship's captain. The "captain's log" was a dramatic device used by the creators of the televison series Star Trek to introduce each episode, and does not exist in the U.S. Navy.
Navy-owned ships operated by the Military Sealift Command (MSC), formerly the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS), are classified as "in service," manned by civilian crews. Inquiries concerning Military Sealift Command ships' logs should be sent to Commander (M0021), Military Sealift Command, Washington Navy Yard Building 210, 805 KIDDER BREESE SE, Washington, DC 20398-5540.
The identifying hull name of Military Sealift Command ships are prefixed by "T" followed by a hyphen and then the number. For example, the commissioned oiler USS Platte is identified as (AO 186), while the MSC-operated oiler Pecos is identified as (T-AO 197)
There is no central repository for deck logs from merchant ships. Deck logs were traditionally considered to be the property of the ship owners to be held or disposed of according to their own recordkeeping practices. After World War II, the deck and engineering logbooks of vessels operated by the War Shipping Administration were turned over to that agency by the ship owners, and were later destroyed, by the Maritime Administration, in the 1970s on the grounds that they were voluminous, costly to house and service, and very seldom used for research..
The National Archives has custody of the Official Logbooks, which were issued to American registered merchant vessels at the beginning of each voyage, and were turned in to the United States Commissioner at the port where each vessel ended its voyage. In these logbooks, masters were required to keep information related to the health and welfare of crew members. These logbooks are not records of ships' operations, but are essentially records of personnel matters, collisions, emergency drills, and information on ships' watertight integrity. The Official Logbooks from U.S.-registered merchant ships are held by the Regional Archives of the National Archives closest to the U. S. port where each voyage ended. This port can be determined from the movement report cards which are part of the Tenth Fleet collection held by the Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. The movement report cards list the ports of call, the dates of arrival and departure, and the convoy designation, if the ship sailed in a convoy.
The Tenth Fleet records also contain the loss and damage reports for merchant ships, and folders about the individual convoys. Several other collections held by the Textual Reference Branch of the National Archives at College Park that are very useful for understanding merchant ship movement and operations are the Naval Armed Guard reports from each voyage and the Bureau of Naval Personnel's Naval Armed Guard Casualty reports. For the period of World War II, Naval Armed Guard detachments were assigned to U.S.-flag merchant ships, Army transports, and even some foreign-flag merchantmen.