It depends on what kind of sailing you're doing. If you're just out day sailing, a detailed log isn't so important, and I might just jot down where we went, who was aboard and any special events that might have occurred, like seeing whales or dolphins...
For a longer passage, with a specific destination in mind, then I'll generally keep a much more detailed log. This log is useful to document weather, fuel usage, engine hours, as well as have a fairly detailed record of the course and distances run. This information becomes very useful to look back upon when sailing the same area in the future. Jotting down the basic information every hour or two, like course, heading, distance run, barometric pressure, lat/lon position, and weather conditions only takes a minute, and gives you a lot of good information on a longer passage.
For instance, if the barometric pressure is slowly dropping, you can expect a low pressure system and front to be coming, but not too serious in terms of weather. If the barometric pressure is dropping quickly, you can expect a fairly intense, but often short-lived storm front to pass over.
I will often have a page of "refuge" harbors in the log of each passage leg—that notes the ATONs I should expect to see, as well as the rough course and distances I should expect to run if I were to need to enter one of these harbors. These notes would also include any important warnings, like the presence of a large, mostly submerged breakwater northeast of Rockport Harbor, and notes about the harbor and what conditions it would be good for, not good for—like noting that Tarpaulin Cove is only good if the wind is out of the North-NorthWest or West... and rather unprotected, especially with winds out of the east, or that Great Misery Island can have lots of mosquitoes at it...
In the case of heavy weather, I'll usually write notes of what the conditions were and how they were dealt with... this is usually done after the fact... but mainly serves as a record of what worked, what didn't and what could be improved.
You're talking about a "sailing experience" log, I assume.
I don't think there's any proper or improper form, and I've never heard of any guidelines for them. Occasionally as a part-time instructor, I'm asked to fill in log pages from the ASA booklet, which I do.
Re: charter operators, I have limited experience with them, but I think most of them depend primarily on a verbal interview with you, then on the card (like ASA or USSA), and then on the logbook. Mostly, they rely on your credit card.
Others may have more up-to-date knowledge, in which case, listen to them...
Thanks, sailingdog and nolatom. Your answers have left me with new questions!
What's the difference between a personal experience log and a ship log?
Considering that I'll only be sailing vessels of up to 26' in the near future, and only near-shore half-day sails, I'm guessing I don't need a ship log. Am I right in doing so?
My main interest is in recording my experience for future reference by a charter company, or to prepare a resume. It might also be useful if I want to volunteer as someone's crew, no? And, of course, as my own personal reference for future sails or simply memories.
Primarily, a personal experience (teaching) log stays with you, and belongs to you.
A boat log belongs to the boat, and stays with the boat. No reason you can't do both. But the teaching log sort of assumes that you're the student, while the boat log is filled out by the skipper, who may not be you if you're still the student.
A boat log stays with the boat. A personal experience log (something I never did, except to qualify for a Coast Guard license) stays with you.
There's no reason you couldn't keep a personal log with the suggestions I made. It isn't restricted to a ship's log... and would make a very neat personal memento of all the different boats you sail or crew upon. Especially if you can get photos and signatures of the people you make a passage with.
A boat log's main purpose is for insurance reasons and to show that human error was the least likely cause of the incident - keeping a complete and up to date log book lets the insurance company and coast guard reverse the chronology of the incident and helps explain what perhaps could have been avoided. Typically before heading out you would note the most recent weather bulletin, a review of the mechanical situation, current mileage, location, destination, crew and any possible crew issues. After that any change of course, sail plan, anchoring, crew updates, etc along the way with the weather updates. If your log book shows you checked the motor in the morning and the previous days and you end up with a dead motor and need a tow in for whatever reason your insurance will likely cover the expense as it is an "accident". If your log book says nice sky's and sweet margaritas, it's coming out of your pocket because the same accident will be considered neglect....regardless of whether you check the motor or not....
One good reason is to document your experience. In addition to charter companies, there are experience requirements for the Coast Guard licenses. It makes life a lot easier if you want to get the Six Pack if you have written evidence of your days on the water.