Three Logbook Tips to Save You Heartache

There are lots of tips I could give you about doing better logging of your flight time, but there are three that could save you a big chunk of heartache if things go wrong.

All three of these relate to “what happens if a logbook gets lost, destroyed, damaged,” or otherwise is no longer available to document your flight and training experience.

“It won’t happen to me,” I know you are thinking. Sure, you are just that lucky or careful. But I have seen it happen to others who thought the same thing.

With that in mind, here are the three quick tips.

Back it Up – Multiple Ways

Make copies. Somehow. Actually, I recommend digital copies such as scans or even doing something as simple as taking pictures and saving them to your “cloud” storage of choice. And back it up where it lives in the cloud.

I personally use an app on my phone/tablet that allows me to “scan” via the camera on the device to a pdf file format. Compiling this over time I have developed a running file that is a full backup of my logbook in scanned digital format. A quick search on the app store for your devices will probably generate search results that will offer a few options for this that cost less than $5-10, a cheap price to protect your data.

No matter what you choose, pictures, pdf scans, or old school scanner files, backing this up to a computer is a good idea, but not enough. Hard drives fail also.

I like to back up my files to an online service. There are many options such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and OnDrive that offer a limited amount of storage for free that is more than enough for backing up your logbook. This ensures that the file would live through a computer failure. I know it sounds a little paranoid, but multiple levels of saving this data can ensure that copies of your logbook will live through hardware failures, software failures, house fires, and more.

Don’t forget to backup not just the pages with flight hours, but endorsements also. Missing things like tailwheel, complex, or high performance endorsements can also be a problem if they are lost. without an ability to document them it may require a pilot to re-do them.

Carefully total pages, and do all the columns on EVERY page

I can’t tell you how many errors I have seen in logbooks because people don’t total the pages as they complete them. And they don’t total every column, even if it was a “zero” for that page to carry forward.

Not totaling pages allows errors to be missed and carried forward, which can encumber totals through omission in future pages. This also the reason you total pages as “zero” if that is the case. Make sure every column is properly documented and carried forward to ensure that the next page will start with correct data and not push errors further and further along in your logbook. These get harder to fix the longer they go in your logbook.

Have a Digital Version

Less important than the specific method, I strongly encourage pilots to have a digital version of their paper logbook also. There are some great apps out there these days, but you can even just have a spreadsheet that serves as a digital backup. (Click here if you want a digital Microsoft Excel File to start with). Having a digital backup helps when you total pages to make sure you are getting correct totals and serves as an excellent cross-check to your paper logbook. It also is a backup to the logginf of time.

Ok, ok, I can’t write this article without sharing some horror stories of lost and damanged logbooks. It proves the point that it can happen, and in some cases, is just entertaining. So here we go with a couple of my favorites.

Stolen from the car – An unfortunately not uncommon occurrence. Imagine that flight bag in the back seat of your car when you stop somewhere on the way to or from the airport. In it might be a couple of highly salable items on the internet such as your headset or your iPad. Collateral damage, and worthless to the would-be robber is your logbook that probably gets thrown away in a random dumpster never to be returned while Criminal X makes a couple hundred dollars on eBay.

In one case, it wasn’t a car, but a flight instructor who worked for me had his logbook stolen as a part of the overall disappearance of his flight bag from an airport at which he stopped on a trip. He never got the logbook back. He spent hours and hours recreating as much time as he could, calling previous training providers, aircraft rental providers, students of his, and anyone with whom he had flown over the years. He did the best he could, but still ended up literally losing hundreds of hours of flight time was not able to recreate or document. Those were hours that could have moved him forward for jobs sooner if he had not lost them.

My Dog Ate It – Yup. It has happened. Multiple times. Puppies especially. And, not to stereotype, but labrador retriever puppies seem to be the most common offenders from stories I have been given. But I digress. It is still gone if your dog chews it up.

Lost in a Move – This happens to be one of the most common reasons for loss in my experience. It happens commonly to pilots who started training once, might have gotten their private pilot certificate, then took a break from flying for reasons such as raising a family before coming back to flying. Having a backup option, or multiple options, can help remedy the re-starting point confusion that comes with not having a previous logbook to use as a starting point.

The Disgruntled X Wife – In a painful example of a grumpy x-significant other, one of our customers actually got a video sent to him in his email of his x-wife burning his logbook to “punish him”! Ouch. And not bright on her part since a logbook is technically considered a federal document, a fact that was brought up in his final divorce proceedings. Fortunately this customer had taken advantage of some of the above advice and had made copies off his logbook, something she didn’t know, and something that made his logbook recreation MUCH easier.

The Open Sun Roof – Of my favorites from the previous customer files was a logbook left in the center console of his car, the sunroof open, subjected to an unexpected rain storm. The logbook got wet, then it was hot, and it swelled up like a big ball of mush, never to be made readable again. Fortunately, he wasn’t too far into his training and his instructor was able to recreate a new logbook with a little work.

So why is this all so critical?

Well, when it comes to being a pilot, especially one that has a career in aviation, the data in a logbook is critical to employment eligibility, currency documentation, or eligibility for future pilot certificates and ratings. Losing this data can require, in the worst of circumstances, pilots to re-do experience requirements if they can no longer prove that they had been previously obtained. In better circumstances, it can result in hours of work calling previous rental aircraft providers, students, or instructors to re-document flight experience, endorsements, or training requirements. In the best of cases, when a pilot has backups, it just takes recreating a logbook from backup documents.

Now, doesn’t that sound like a much better option?

Oh, and one last note to think about. The sooner you do this, and get in the habit of staying up-to-date, the less time it will take. If you wait until you are into your fourth logbook to start, you are going to need to really commit some time to get it done. Plus, the sooner you do it, the less you risk loosing as you progress through your flying career. Procrastination on this one may cost you!

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About Jason Blair

Jason Blair is an active single and multiengine instructor and an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 6,000 hours total time, over 3,000 hours of instruction given, and more than 3000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. In his role as Examiner, over 2,000 pilot certificates have been issued. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations with the work focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes over 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.


Three Logbook Tips to Save You Heartache — 3 Comments

  1. Jason, what is the procedure for H pie private pilot who due to life experiences takes a break, moves and loses his logbook? How does that pilot go about re-creating the hours since it is all self-reported anyway? He has the private pilot certificate number and a new medical so he is a valid pilot, just a little Lost on the number of hours. He did indeed know he was above 200. Do we just start with 200 as his previous hours?

    • Technically, they would go back to the last 8170 that they submitted and have to recreate from there anything they had record of and could reliably document. Some have had to do this from FBO records, from their instructors’ records of flights with them, etc. A challenge of this many times is if they also need to get endorsements again such as complex, high-performance, etc. Technically, they need to get the training and sign off from an instructor again. Anything that cannot be reliably documented becomes “lost” hours in tough cases.

  2. I give this same advice to my students. It is surprising how many people have lost or had their logbooks destroyed. Ok my own horror story: I once flew with a student whose previous instructor had written in his logbook with disappearing ink. You could see the indentation that the pen had left on the page but the ink was gone! Apparently this had happened to multiple students. The instructor would also keep his student’s logbooks for “safekeeping.” Simply amazing some of the CFIs out there. Luckily the student was able to get their previous CFI to properly ink the logbook.