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Keeping Track of Everything–part 3 …

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

This series has generated a lot of interest so we’ll pick up the pace and continue with it. After today’s newsletter, there’ll be one more segment and then we’ll provide templates for all of the databases. We’ve been in contact with the HanDBase developers and they’ll host the templates on their own website so boaters everywhere can use them as a starting point.

If this is the first time you’re seeing this series, you might want to refer back to the index of newsletters to see the other segments.

All newsletters are archived here: https://activecaptain.com/newsletters


The most important database in the Keeping Track set is the Captain’s Log table.

This is the main log where all actions are recorded. Although there are about 10 different categories of items, most of the entries fall under two categories – destination travel and maintenance.

Here are all the fields we use in our Captain’s Log:

  • Date/Time – the date and time of the entry.
  • Category – a popup of categories. The categories we use are: Maintenance, Repair, Equipment, Misc, Boat Movement, Water, and a category for each "cruise" we’ve done. Equipment is the log for every new piece of equipment added to the boat. Boat Movement is when we’re moving the boat not associated with cruising. Water is when we’re tracking water usage.
  • Desc – a title description for the entry. For the cruising categories, this is the city, state where we arrived.
  • Location – this is a more descriptive entry of exactly where we arrived. It’s an ActiveCaptain marina or anchorage name in 99% of the cruise entries. This item is also filled out for maintenance and other log entries. It’s very valuable to know where particular projects were done. Here at Chesapeake, VA, we’re having our salon settee re-upholstered this week. We’ve record that as a maintenance item with a location of Atlantic Yacht Basin. This allows us to recall where we can get this type of work done in the future by looking back in the records.
  • Lat/Lon – the latitude/longitude. This is most often only recorded for destination entries.
  • HrsToday – this records the number of hours it took to arrive at a destination. Surprisingly, we often look back on this. It lets us know how long it has taken to go from one location to another over more than a decade of traveling along the waterways. It has been very valuable in fine tuning our planning.
  • Notes – this contains paragraphs of notes appropriate to the entry. It will contain the upholstering company we used in the example above, contact information, pricing, and our (hopefully positive) impressions. For cruising log entries, it details any issues we faced, weather encountered, and other things we’d like to remember about the destination. We often put the names of people we met or experiences we had at the location. These notes also end up as reminders for us when we write a review about a marina or anchorage.
  • EngHours – the hour meter reading of the engine hours. This gives backup timing on many of the entries. For the engine oil change maintenance entries we made last weekend, it’s an important record of the hours for that work. Whenever maintenance is done on our generator, this field is used for the generator engine hours (also done last weekend).
  • NMToday – a record of the nautical miles travelled for destination entries.

We’ve changed the fields collected for the Captain’s Log many times over the years but there hasn’t been a change in about 4 years.

This list of fields works for us. It’s probably a good starting point for others.


One more simple database to describe – the Fuel Log. This database logs every drop of fuel we have ever purchased for our boat. We always make entries when we fill all tanks.

This allows the database to provide a running gallons-per-hour tracking which gives us a view into possible issues with the engines.

The fields in the Fuel Log are:

  • Date/Time – when the fuel was purchased.
  • Location – where the fuel was purchased.
  • Gallons – how many gallons were purchased.
  • PerGallon – the cost per gallon paid (the first entry was 5/8/03 for $1.25 per gallon).
  • Total Cost – a calculated field we use to check the math of the charge given to us.
  • CurrentEngHrs – hour meter reading for the engines at the time of fuel purchase.
  • PrevEngHrs – hour meter reading for the engines at the previous fuel purchase.
  • CurrentGenHrs – hour meter reading for the generator at the time of fuel purchase.
  • PrevGenHrs – hour meter reading for the generator at the previous fuel purchase.
  • GPH – a computed field that takes all the hours fields and the number of gallons and computes the gallons-per-hour for this last fuel usage. It automatically removes the generator gallons used to give a better efficiency indication for just the main engines.
  • Notes – any notes we want to remember about the fuel purchase.

This has been a dry look at a few more of our databases used.

Next time, we’ll finish up with the Maintenance, Parts, Spares, and Engine Room Logs.



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