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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.



“I want my VMG” why are we in Dire Straits?

In a previous post I complained about the inability of expensive chart plotter devices to calculate proper routes by assessing the correct Course to Steer (CTS) using tidal streams and wind data. If you are a sailing vessel then trying to steer along the “projected track” line that these plotters are fond of displaying is the least efficient Course to Steer – even if you are sailing dead down wind. To add to this issue your expensive chart plotter from Raymarine or Garmin or Foruno will be displaying a VMG that will mislead you into steering a poor course – and if you tack the chart plotter will not be able to tell you what your ETA is either.

“I want my VMG” why are we in Dire Straits? → Click here to continue reading →


Make an iGoogle “Sailing” tab your home page

A number of fellow loafers at the marina showed interest in using the tab that I have created within iGoogle to gather together items of interest for sailing. If you havent yet created an iGoogle page of your own I highly recommend doing so – have a look at this video to see how easy it is.

After you create your iGoogle page then you can create “tabs” which house different collections of widgets. For example I have a “tab” called “Local” where I see all the local entertainment and news. Similarly I have created a tab called “Sailing” see screenshot below.

iGoogle page

Why bother? – well if this is your default home page then you have in one place almost all the info you want from tides, to hurricane warnings, to news to weather info and of course links to your favourite blogs and web sites. The service is free and there are no adverts…

If you are interested in which widgets to add I would be happy to “share” the sailing tab that I have created just use the contact form to request the tab – once you have downloaded it it is entirely yours with no connection to me:-)


Download Maretron Software FREE!

Maretron have allowed a free download of their excellent drawing software for free here.

Using this software you can:
* Design NMEA2000® Networks
* Document network Design Decisions
* Analyse NMEA2000® Networks
* Automatically Generate Bill of Materials (BOM)
* Create Network Configuration Files
* Print Schematics and Reports

N2KBuilder™ software is a powerful, free PC-based tool for designing and verifying the integrity of NMEA 2000® networks. The N2KBuilder™ software, when installed on a Windows PC and used as part of an integrated design workflow can be used to layout, document, and validate the design of complex NMEA 2000® networks. In addition, it will directly produce a Bill of Materials (BOM) for Maretron® products, eliminating guesswork and transcription errors.

I have used it to map out a schematic of my old NMEA0183 network too..I know that this undermines the built in checks and balances but at least I get a nice schematic diagram..which I previously had to keep up to date using Excel and pasted images.


Weather for FREE

There are a number of subscription services for weather data, but I really think that whether you are experienced or a novice sailor it is a good idea to practice reading barometric and other weather data for yourself to get accustomed to the connection between the data and the summary weather forecasts that are available from the US and UK Met Office. Please note I am not saying that you can substitute for listening to and heeding the Inshore and Shipping forecasts – but these resources and sofware can help your own decision making in terms of passage planning.

Of course what the paid for services add is “interpretation” and “prediction”…and we all know how accurate the weather forecast is on the TV…well in England that would be funny – perhaps the weather is forecast accurately in your part of the World? There are many models for forecasting but the most prevalent is the US National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) – GFS Model.

Below are a large number of free resources and software that would make you fully capable of seeing all sorts of up to date weather data for FREE.

NOAA Marine Weather Service
This fantastic site gives free TIFF and GIF images for:
You don’t even need fancy software to see these pictures – just double click and the browser (IE or Firefox) will just display the picture for you – and you can save them to your laptop/PC for viewing later when you may not be able to get an internet connection.
NOAA Radiofax Schedule (for any fax viewing software – see below)

GRIB file data goes a step further by giving wind direction and speed using an easy to understand “barbed feather”. This saves you having to measure the distance between isobars to calculate wind strength. Some software even draws isotechs which are lines of constant wind speed. and some software draws arrows of different dimension and colours to represent speed and direction.

UGRIB Screen shotBut, I use the simple free service from UGRIB. This service gives you a free worldwide viewer and free GRIB files for any area that you care to select. You can select GRIB file area by just drawing an area on the map of the world and then the software downloads that area’s data alone – thereby saving on bandwidth for the download, which si a real boon if you are connected to the internet using your GPRS enabled phone! – click on the image for a larger screen shot.

Free GRIB viewer and GRIB data file – UGRIB
Free GRIB data viewer from AIRMAIL

If you have an SSB receiver on board such as the NASA SSB, then you can even get all sorts of free data while on the high seas and no where in sight of an internet connection…yes there are places such as these!

WEFAX is a method to transmit weather facsimile images over radio. Most images are transmitted in black and white, although some are grey scale. To receive wefax images, you need a shortwave receiver and a software decoder to convert audio tones into black and white. Tuning the receiver accurately is a tricky and time consuming process, but essential to receive acceptable pictures. You then have to clean up the audio signal by appropriate filtering to isolate the black and white “tones”.
The connection from the NASA SSB is a cable that plugs into the microphone input on my laptop, and when in operation sounds just like a fax machine or old analogue modem.

The program I use is SeaTTY. This can receive weather reports, navigational warnings and weather charts transmitted in RTTY, NAVTEX and HF-FAX (WEFAX) modes on longwave and shortwave bands. It can decode GMDSS DSC (HF and VHF) messages. The software can also automatically save NOAA Weather Radio SAME voice messages (NWR SAME) and the digital headers. No additional hardware is required — you need only a receiver and computer with a sound card.

Software for WEFAX – SeaTTY
Info and further links The DKZone
Free data by ham radio from Winlink2000
Software for weather fax
WEFAX Resources