Deck Logs, “Diaries of Ships”, Find New Home At Historical Center

Story Number: NNS031205-12Release Date: 12/5/2003 10:03:00 AM
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By Brian S. Chi, Naval Historical Center Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- In November, the Naval Warfare Division of the Naval Historical Center (NHC) completed moving two years' worth of their collected monthly ships deck logs to a new facility on the Washington Navy Yard, D.C.

The new area has a more efficient layout and better climate controls than the previous one.

"These deck logs are very important. They tell the story of the lives of the Navy's ships. They show what we do, an accumulation of who we are and what we have done for our nation," Cmdr. Jeremy W. Gillespie, director, Naval Warfare Division, NHC, recently said.

They are collected and kept by the Ships History Branch of the Naval Warfare Division, NHC. Since there are approximately 300 ships currently in the U.S. Navy, this branch will ultimately receive a total of about 3,600 monthly deck logs this year.

The ship's deck log is the daily chronology of specific events occurring aboard for administrative and legal purposes; it identifies a ship's location and daily movements, with latitude and longitude being entered three times a day for ships underway. It will list any accidents, arrests, deaths, honors, movements and any new personnel reporting aboard. The monthly logs can run from 50 to hundreds of pages, depending on the ship and what it is doing.

Preparation is governed according to the current edition of Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Instruction 3100.7 (OPNAVINST 3100.7) series.

Many people believe that deck logs are daily personal diaries written by the ship's captain, much like the "captain's log" which was a dramatic device used in the television series "Star Trek". The reality is that they tend to be very dry listings of the many daily mundane details of a ship's existence.

Each month, ships mail their original deck logs to the NHC where they are checked in, shelved and eventually boxed at the end of the year. Recently, cataloging of the deck logs was switched from index cards to a computer database.

"After a year at Ships History Branch at the NHC, the deck logs are moved to a storage facility at Suitland, Md. The NHC still owns these deck logs - they are just put away in secured and climate control storage," Gillespie said.

Tom Karppi, archive technician, Deck Log Section, added, "After 30 years, the Ships History Branch transfers the logs to the Modern Military Records Branch, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in College Park, Md. When the deck logs are moved there, they are no longer solely Navy property but remain part of our government's permanent historical record."

The earlier deck logs up to 1940 are held in the Old Military and Civil Branch, NARA, located in downtown Washington, D.C.

Because deck logs are legal documents and can be important for court cases or medical claims, requests for copies of deck logs are common. Every week, NHC receives dozens of inquiries, many from members of Congress on behalf of constituents.

"There are reasons why we get requests for copies of deck logs; veterans may have injuries that they have suffered on duty or maybe it is just nostalgia. It is also common for historical researchers to work with deck logs," Gillespie said.

For related news, visit the Naval Historical Center Navy NewsStand page at

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Quartermaster 2nd Class Danny Wimbish, from Atlanta, Ga., creates deck log entries
Official U.S. Navy file photo of Quartermaster 2nd Class Danny Wimbish, from Atlanta, Ga., creating deck log entries using a laptop while standing Quartermaster of the Watch on the bridge of USS George Washington (CVN 73). All navy deck logs are collected and kept for 30 years by the Ships History Branch of the Naval Warfare Division, Naval Historical Center (NHC). Because they are legal documents and can be important for court cases or medical claims, requests for copies of old deck logs are common.
October 27, 2003
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