Keeping track of everything…

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

One of the most common questions we've been asked over the years revolves around the ways we keep track of our ships logs, maintenance reminders, projects, and other boating lists. It shouldn't surprise anyone that we use technology to solve these needs. We've learned some valuable lessons and will split them into a few newsletter segments to help others keep track of, well, everything. First, an overview of the things we database.

From the first moment we stepped onto our current boat in 2003, we've used the same databases. This provides us with an incredible wealth of information including every maintenance project, service, problem, destination, and many more details. Every time we've moved the boat, a log entry was made. Every drop of fuel we've purchased in 12+ years has a similar record. Every new piece of equipment that came onboard and every service task performed was logged. Our databases include every part on the boat including serial numbers, part numbers, manufacturer, and additional information we've learned about each part.

Although we've changed software products about 4 times in the 12+ years, the data has always been able to be moved ahead to the next generation.

That is the most important lesson – make sure any database you use has the ability to export into some type of open spreadsheet or database format like CSV or Excel. Being able to then import that data into the next tool means the data can continue to live on. We're reminded of how important that is whenever we wonder how long it has been since we've been to a particular place, where we first met friends like Don & Cindy, or how to pair the Garmin autopilot remote (it's a note in the Garmin parts record).

Another important lesson we've learned is that the data has to reside on our phone. A normal spreadsheet on a laptop is adequate, but having the data with you, in your pocket, provides numerous benefits. First, adding and editing records is trivial. There's no writing down information on pieces of paper for data entry onto the laptop. Your phone is always around you. It's incredibly convenient to make frequent additions at the exact moment you think of it.

Another advantage of having the databases with you all the time is that the information is available wherever you are. When we were in Salem, MA a few years ago, there was a marine supply store going out of business and selling their huge inventory of zincs. We pulled the phone out and had all the part numbers we needed to take advantage of hundreds of dollars of savings. Whenever we're in a Walmart or Home Depot type of store, before we leave, we check the phone to see what items we need to complete current or upcoming boat projects.

So here are the 7 databases that are always with us:

– Projects: a list of the o

utstanding boat projects being worked on. It has a list of projects including items that need to be purchased alongside the tasks that need to be completed. Each item has a month providing a "deadline."

– Captain's Log: the major database containing every action that has been done on the boat. Boat movement, maintenance performed, new items added, and much more all have individual records.

– Fuel Log: a special database that lists every time fuel is purchased.

It uses the previous purchase to automatically provide a running gallons per hour display. This is a great way to check on any changes to engine efficiency. The first entry was made on May 8, 2003 when we purchased

515.17 gallons of diesel at Herrington Harbor North for $1.25/gallon.

– Maintenance: this database lists all the maintenance items that need to be done by elapsed time or by engine hours. It's the place to put reminders about common things like oil changes or uncommon things like rudder post check reminders. The items are sorted showing the things that need to be done next. Once an item is completed, its date/hours are incremented and an entry is made in the 

Captain's Log.

– Parts Database: a list of every part on the boat that we need to keep track of. Over the first couple of years, we spent many hours poking around the boat to record serial and part numbers. We also write notes about any part along with phone numbers and vendors who have the part.

When something new is purchased, it goes into the database before it is installed on the boat.

– Spares: a list of all major boat spares and where they are located.

We always go through every item in this database before taking off on longer trips to make sure we have all filters, pumps, hoses, and a hundred other items. When something is used, it is removed from the list. This database also has the location of each spare since these types of parts tend to be hidden away and hard to find just when you need them most.

– Engine Room Log: measurements taken at each engine room check. To be honest, we stopped logging these measurements after 8 years of doing them every hour while underway. We found it very valuable during those early years – it let us know when coolers needed to be cleaned and pointed to other minor problems before they became major ones. By now, we know every reading to within a degree and immediately know when additional attention is needed. Still, this was an incredibly valuable tool in figuring out what to measure along with giving real data to help us learn about our boat.


Those are the only 7 databases we use. For the last 7 years, we've been using HanDBase for iOS, Android, and Macintosh. The Mac version is used to back up the phone data. All real data entry and viewing is done on phones.

Future posts will look at the design of each database. The tools for creating and using these types of record storage are very simple.




When the series is complete, we'll provide blank databases for each of our personal ones as starting points for your own use.

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain



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