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TRIP LOGKeeping A "Ship's Log" For Kayakers By Athena Holtey
Documenting Your Kayak Adventures To Re-Live & Learn

I have on my shelves perhaps 18 or so journals of varying sizes and types documenting all my boring life before kayaking. I'd taught classes in the subject; even designed a few for children's church & community programs.

My first big overnight kayak trip was a 45 mile paddle up Maui's rugged, undeveloped North Coast in ten days. Nothing to do but kayak, sleep, snorkel and eat. So why, tell me, could I not find the time to keep a daily log?

JOURNALGuess I was having too much fun! OK, I broke down and wrote down a few notes here and there. We took pictures of course, but not as many as we wished. Isn't that always the case?

Like, where is that picture of the local Hawaiian fisherman who swam into our bay from his boat on the reef and spent the morning, in native fashion, peeling opii off the rocks with a knife; stowing them in a bag hanging from his waist, then swimming back out with his harvest?.

In my head and heart, and in a few jotted notes, that is where.

Sentimental vs. Accurate

Sometimes the most charming and inspiring records - and the best memories - come from the scribbles you make in the field. Anything that can provoke a memory for you, try jotting down a note and throw into a dry bag. As kayakers engaged in a sport requiring safety and skill, however, an accurate accounting of your trip is probably more important than a sentimental journey. This article will illustrate both the endearing and the practical reasons for keeping a kayak "ship log" and the things you should record.

Rocky Landing: Helele'ike'oha, N. Maui
Helele'ike'oha - No date - "Saw an owl at dusk. Beach pebbles rolled back and forth with the waves all night long with the sound of a thousand clapping hands."
What To Bring Along:

No special tools required. We spent that entire trip in our bathing suits with minimal supplies for low impact camping and touring. I had one little book, a disposable waterproof camera and a pen in a small dry bag.

My cute book wasn't the worse for wear; but had it been damaged or waterlogged would only be more of a treasure now. A messy dry bag of doodled comments and trinkets are better than none and can be magically transformed.

When you get home, take those notes, souvenirs - like a shell, a piece of drift wood or a stone; gather your photos and chart; lay them all out and relive your trip for the day or the week, improving on your handwriting, sketches, and specifics of locations from your float plan, chart or topo maps.

My JournalJust since that trip in September 1998 modern technology has improved so much that scanning, cutting, and pasting into some wonderful formats are just a mouse click away.

But you don't have to be fancy. My most memorable visit with Audrey Sutherland on Oahu's North Shore still lays captured in this spiral bound notebook. A picture of Audrey, myself and my friend Ann glued in place with a few notes brings the adventures of the whole day back again.

Tom comparing trip to float planDoing It Right

If you are into scrap booking or are intent on a perfect sentimental accounting of your trips there are many supplies and programs at your disposal.

Scuba Diver's waterproof writing pads are made for hikers now and are not so costly these days, as well as pens that write when wet. Outdoor stores, like our affiliates in Tom's Top Kayaker Shop have some varieties.

photo album with writing spaceWidely available are photo albums like this one on the right. It has a place to make notes for each photo. Most manufacturers are clued-in to make photo albums with archival paper now. That used to be the biggest challenge in finding proper supplies that grow old gracefully without yellowing or acidifying your treasured photos.

There are, of course, electronic programs and websites that accept your digital images with documentation. Most basic word processing programs do all that now. Be careful about what is trendy in website journal recording. I just love Blogspot.com but it changes and has been sold at least once at this writing. Back up your online efforts somehow or at least print them out once in awhile!

North Coast Maui Trip 1998

Travels With Your Kayak: Dates & Places and Details...Details...

Regardless of how simple or complex the format we choose for a completed record of travels with our kayaks, there are some details that will be valuable to record in order to learn from past mistakes. A true "ship's log" will also help a friend plan the trip we inspired in them with our grand tales of the sea.

Some things best recorded in retrospect:

How well equipped for the circumstances were you? Were there things you wish you had brought along or would have been worth the weight and space they took up? Things you wish you left behind?

Where did you find fresh water? Did you use water purifying tablets or devices? Were there toilet facilities? Good fishing? Good snorkeling?

One day we put in where Tom remembered fresh water but it had been a dry year so we were out of luck. Instead of enjoying that camp for a couple of days as planned, we had to move on.

Where was that alternative put in? How did it compromise or facilitate the trip? How well did provisions last?

Asking ourselves such questions stimulates memories and perspective for the next time:

Would a rudder have helped me keep up? A kite been useful or fun to have had along? Where did the radios work? Where did they fail?

Write such things down like alternative landing sites you used as soon after you get home as possible. Compare the actual trip to your float plan as explained in our article: Group Kayak Expeditions: Planning & Procedures. Look at your maps and write down exact names or coordinates. Note the outfitter you used for drop-offs or pick-ups and whether or not they were reliable.

When you get your pictures back go through and label into sections to help you break up the events of the trip and remember where you were and who you were with. Details for you sentimental record of a trip can then be saved for when you have a block of time to give.

Some things best noted at the end of each day:

tom, phil,
Tom, Phil & Jane watching Mike & Chris snorkeling at Pilale, our last campsite, N. Maui, Sept. '98.

You don't need a photo of every little thing or join kayak expeditions like our Maui trip, to have a good kayaker's tale to record. Also, being too busy documenting your trip with photos can cause you to miss the big picture.

Making a quick sketch of notable features of a bird or fish will help you identify it later with guide book in hand. Heaven knows there are pictures of everything available these days to supplement your album.

Asking any of the questions suggested here at the end of a day will get you to recall important aspects of the event, even if it was just a day paddle. It helps you keep aware of your growing skills and stamina; when you first met someone who was to become an old friend someday; what sort of limitations you experienced and what you can do to practice or improve:


"My brave little Honda" - Fall '97. Last trip with a borrowed boat. Thea came. The trip leader said whoever owned that car wouldn't have to worry about locking it up.
  • What was the name of the put-in and take-out? What compass directions did we paddle going out and landing? Did the surf kick up earlier than expected? Did we get a late start & how can we avoid this in the future? What time was that? Were there off-shore or on-shore winds?

  • What kayak did I paddle? How could it have been outfitted better? How did my kayak behave in the wind, current or swells? Where and what time of day?

  • How were the conditions? What hazards were avoided and how? Were landings rocky, tricky or sandy? Did the weather or surf report match the conditions we found ourselves in? What wildlife did we see? What kind of fish were caught?

  • Who needed assistance & how well equipped were we to help? How many miles did we paddle today? How long did it take to paddle those miles? What meals or refreshments worked well? What didn't? How did I feel while paddling? How well did I hydrate?
Essentials & Examples

I hope you find this information inspiring and realize that keeping a ship's log is much less intimidating than you might expect. Journal keeping is near and dear to my heart, but I am as lazy about it these days as I am busy.

Here is a list I've made to help me keep a progress report and remind me, on those days the surf or conditions seem intimidating, how far I have come from my borrowed, beat-up Malibu Two days.

If you'd like to try it - my simple list of basics - to help you re-live and learn from your kayaking adventures, here it is:


Kailua Bay, '97 Practicing deep water re-entry.
  • A small dry bag or map case.
  • A pen
  • A form with some basic questions:
    • Date
    • Launch site:
    • Landing:
    • Duration of trip - time & miles
    • Type of kayak
    • Companions
    • Conditions
    • Comments

A fantastic example of good trip reflection and documentation is on this site in Kayaker Bill Timothy's “Navajo Days Anasazi Nights” A Lake Powell Journal

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