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 History and Heritage Command 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 History and Heritage Command 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 operations/histories, written under a program initiated by the Chief of Naval Operations in 1942, are included in the active records of the Naval Historical Center. Deck logs are 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) 837-3510].
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 History and Heritage Command 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,web-site http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/washington/]. Logs from 1941 through those that are 30 years old or older 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 History and Heritage Command
Deck logs that are less than 30 years of age are in the custody of the Ships Deck Logs Section, Naval History and Heritage Command, Building 57, 805 Kidder Breese Street SE, Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060. All inquiries concerning deck logs that are less than 30 years old should be sent to the Ships Deck Logs Section.
Logs that are less than 30 years old are held in either paper or microfiche form, stored in the Washington National Records Center, 4205 Suitland Road, Suitland MD 20746. Logs from 1979 through February 1993 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 March 1993 are on paper and stored at the Records Center. All deck logs, whether they are classified or FOUO (For Official Use Only) must be sent to the proper authorities at SubPac, SubLant, SurfPac or SurfLant for declassification review or review and release determination before they can be researched or copied. Al Deck Logs that are less than three years of age must be sent to PacFlt for review and release determination.
Format: Deck logs are bulky documents. Prior to the 1980s, logs were kept on oversized (10 by 15 inches) paper, a typical log consisting of four 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 120 pages or more per month, or over 1200 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 one person. 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.
All deck logs are either FOUO (For Official Use Only) or classified. Under new regulations/procedures all deck logs must be reviewed for release determination prior to its release to the general public. Reqeusts for copies of deck logs will be treated as a FOIA requests (Freedom of Information Act). When a request for copies of a deck log are received the Ships History Branch, Deck Logs Section will make a page count of the deck logs requested and determine the estimated cost to either make a microfiche copy or scan the paper deck logs and place them on CD-ROM. The incoming request, along with the estimated cost of reproduction will then be send to the Navy's FOIA Office. The Navy FOIA Office will send out a letter to the requestor telling them of the cost. If the individual decides to pay the reproduct cost they must notify the Navy FOIA Office that they want to continue their request to reproduce the deck logs. One the Navy FOIA Office gets that notification letter then the Ships History Deck Logs Section will either scan the paper deck logs or duplicate the microfiche deck logs and forward those records to either SubLant, SubPac, SurfLant or SurfPac for final review and release determination. The individual will be notified which command is reviewing the deck logs for release determination and that command will provide the final copy of the deck logs that have been authorized for release.
Duplication of Deck Logs
Due to the restrictions on FOUO deck logs the logs are not available to the general public for research purposes. As stated in the "Research of Deck Logs Section" above, the duplication fee schedule will be what is charged under FOIA. The cost to scan paper deck logs and place them on CD-ROM is 15 cents a page and the cost to duplicate existing microfiche is 25 cents a sheet. Most of the deck logs for the period 1979 to February1993 are on microfiche and the paper copy of the deck logs do not exist. The Ships History Branch will provide a price quote via the Navy's FOIA Office.
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 History and Heritage Command 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, Military Sealift Command, Attn: Public Affairs, 914 Charles Morris Ct., S.E. Washington Navy Yard, 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 USNS 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.