Proper Record Keeping and Log Writing

Keeping proper records and writing good logs is an absolute art form. Onboard ships, when we are writing logs, there is no fluff and just the meat. The art form of writing effective logs and reports is communicating the key elements in as few words as possible.


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Keep it free of "I"

The best way to write a log is to keep the logs free of "I". Adding "I" in your logs can make logs sound unprofessional and accidentally admit guilt.  For example which log sounds more professional? "At 1052 an unidentified person entered the facility." or "I witnessed an unidentified person enter the facility at 1052 this morning." Using "I" not only makes the entry into the log longer by adding unnecessary words, in this case it implies passiveness or inability to maintain security. Saying you witnessed something go on without taking action may come back with negative consequences.

Using "I" also adds un necessary length to the log entry. Let's take an example from a made up world scenario. You're on a ship and you notice that one of the buoys marking the edge of the channel is missing. You call into the authorities to report the missing buoy and they acknowledge. When you write you report in the log you write "I noticed that the buoy marking the edge of the channel was missing and I called the authorities to report it was missing." This could also be communicated by saying "Buoy at channel edge reported missing to authorities." 23 vs 8 words to communicate the same information.

Keep it objective

Typically logs are generated for (yes routine items) incidents and people get very excited during incidents. Your responsibility during an incident log is to keep the log as objective ad possible. Meaning, no opinions, just facts as you remember. If you can't remember something, add what you can but don't try and connect the dots.

We love to play detective, well I do. However, the detective work should stay with the professionals. Keep your logs and reports free and clear of things you don't know for sure. For example, "... an unknown individual broke into the building and looks like they stole some tools from the shop because cabinets were rummaged through" vs "... an unknown person broke into the building. Cabinets were found open and potentially rummaged through". This still communicated the same message without answering a question you don't necessarily have the answer to.

Subjective statements can cause a lot of problems when it comes to medical incident records as well. Stating that you think someone has a "broken arm", "tweaked shoulder", or "crushed foot" can cause issues during claims processes. Instead say "clamant reported an arm injury", "person reported a shoulder injury", or "individual reported a foot injury" instead. Let the doctor make the determination what the injury is.

Keep it court ready

Is your log ready to go to court? Most logs don't make their way to court, but on the rare occasion they do end up in a court room or infront of a lawyer. What does court ready mean then? It's another way of saying cover yoir bases. I'm not a lawyer, nor are we giving legal advice. These tips are just a few learned along the way to help defend your log.

  1. Never write oil, hazardous material, or declare the substance in the event something is leaking. Instead write "unknown substance" in its place. Why? Hazardous Materials, oil, and more have specific clean up requirements and reporting requirements that can result in fines if not followed. Plus, what may look like oil may not be oil, what may look like a hazardous substance may be milk. I am not saying, don't clean up a spill nor am I saying neglect the environment. Let a supervisor or manager have the ability to determine if a clean up is necessary, don't tie their hands with words.
  2. Always write who you spoke to, the time, and method of communication. Let's face it, everything is recorded these days. If you call the Coast Guard to report a buoy missing, it never gets fixed, and something bad happens as a result, wouldn't it be nice to be able to have written proof on your end of who you spoke to and when? Yes, it is a bit of the blame game, but an important part. Ideally your log entry would look something like "Buoy XX reported missing to Coast Guard at {phone number} at 1048 July 3, 1776".

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Finally, sign after you write the last word

The last tip we have to writing better logs and repots is sign your name after your last word. Imagine you have several lines after your last sentence. If anyone were to want to cover their tracks, add unecessary data, or reframe the incident or log, they have the space to do so within an area that can still be considered your log. Simply signing your name after the last word signifies that you have completed the log.

Nick Seferos

Nick Seferos

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, the maritime industry has surrounded Nick his entire life. His vision is to simplify and improve the efficiency of the maritime industry globally.
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