How to look for records of... Royal Navy ships’ log books

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you to find Royal Navy log books at The National Archives. These records reveal the location of Royal Navy ships and submarines, wherever they were in the world, and the voyages they took, from around 1669 onwards. Unlike the Army, the Royal Navy did not keep unit war diaries but naval logs are the nearest equivalent to those diaries.

Sometimes other elements of life aboard ship were recorded too, but rarely do logs provide personal information on the officers and crew of a particular ship. Medical officers’ journals (see section 6) are the logs most likely to contain information on individuals.

Most of the records described in this guide are not available online and to view them you will need to either visit The National Archives at Kew or pay for copies to be sent to you. Alternatively, you can pay for research.

2. What information do naval logs contain?

There are various types of naval logs and they do not all contain the same kind of information but most of them reveal:

  • locations of ships
  • movements of ships from one place to another
  • weather that ships encountered
  • signals and orders

Less commonly they can reveal:

  • tasks performed and carried out by ships’ companies
  • disciplinary action carried out on board
  • loss of or damages to stores on board

3. Search tips

You can use Discovery, our catalogue, to search for logs by the name of a ship or submarine and by year. For a more targetted search you can:

  • Go to the advanced search in our catalogue and enter the ship’s or submarine’s name in the keyword field
  • Restrict your search by reference, using any or all of the series references provided in the sections below (for example, ADM 50)

For more tips on searching in the catalogue, use the Discovery help page.

4. Officers’ logs 1669-1916

4.1 Admirals’ journals 1702-1916

The records in series ADM 50 are the official journals of admirals and officers of acting flag rank, and are of varying forms and completeness.

Consult the ADM 50 series description for information on what the records contain.

Click on the series reference to search for logs in ADM 50:

  • by name of admiral up to 1855
  • by name of admiral, station or squadron from 1856 onwards

4.2 Masters’ logs 1672-1871

As well as recording a ship’s position, course and the weather, masters’ logs can include details of:

  • punishments issued and carried out
  • duties and tasks carried out by the ship’s hands

Click on the following series references to search for masters’ logs by ship’s name and date:

Consult the small collection of miscellaneous logs from between 1648 and 1706, bound into four volumes, in ADM 7/777-80.

4.3 Captains’ logs 1669-1852

Captains’ logs were compiled from the masters’ logs. The captain added whatever information he thought relevant, or was obliged to give by regulation. The logs can provide a full picture of the daily routine of a naval vessel under sail.

Click on the series reference to search for captains’ logs by ship’s name and date in ADM 51.

4.4 Lieutenants’ logs

Lieutenants’ logs were derived from the masters’ logs in a similar way to the captains’ logs and are now held by the National Maritime Museum.

5. Ships’ logs from 1799 onwards

The various types of officers’ logs discussed above were, by the mid 19th century, superseded by ships’ logs and these records are held in series ADM 53.

Ships’ captains would inspect the logs weekly and they were then sent to the Admiralty.

Consult the ADM 53 series description for information on what the records contain.

Click on the series reference to search for ships’ logs by ship’s name and date in ADM 53.

6. Medical officers’ journals 1785-1963

Medical officers, sometimes referred to as surgeons, on board ship were required to keep a general journal on the health of the ship’s company.

The Navy was always keen to preserve the health of its men and these journals, often written by educated men with acerbic and independent opinions, are usually the most accessible and informative source for the history of a voyage.

Click on the series reference to search for surviving medical officers’ journals in ADM 101, a record series which also contains other kinds of Admiralty medical journals. Search by:

  • name of ship
  • name of sick or injured person
  • name of sickness, disease or injury (for example, scurvy, consumption, cough, broken leg)
  • other keywords

For a further set of medical journals covering 1858-1867, search our catalogue by ship’s name within series MT 32.

The logs contain:

  • details of individuals injured or sick
  • accounts of the medical or surgical treatment of men
  • daily sick lists
  • statistics on diseases
  • comments on the state of health of the crew

7. Logs and journals of ships of exploration 1757-1904

Search and download captains’ and masters’ logs and private journals kept on voyages of exploration in our online records pages.

Search ADM 55 in our catalogue by name of ship and date for log books that are not online.

Search ADM 51 in our catalogue using “explorations” as your keyword for other log books of ships of exploration.

8. Submarines’ logs from 1914 onwards

Submarine logs were kept by crew members otherwise engaged in steering or depth keeping, and contain many abbreviated references.

Click on the series reference to search for submarines’ logs in ADM 173. They record:

  • all wheel, telegraph and depth keeping orders
  • details of battery charges
  • details of torpedo firing
  • navigation information