Thursday, June 12, 2008
Sounding of ship's bells is well rooted in the history and tradition of the maritime industry.
Onboard timekeeping has been an integral part of shipboard life since the earliest days of long distance navigation.
The bells used to mark shipboard time are organized into a schedule that reflect the four-hour watch served by the crew. Each watch is identified by its time of day and one watch, called the Dog Watch, was split into two parts to allow taking of an evening meal. The resulting number of uneven watches insured both crews shared the graveyard shift of 0000-0400 equally.
These are watches observed by ship's crew:
Middle Watch - (0000 - 0400)
Morning Watch - (0400 - 0800)
Forenoon Watch - (0800 - 1200)
Afternoon Watch - (1200 - 1600)
First Dog Watch - (1600 - 1800)
Second Dog Watch - (1800 - 2000)
First Watch - (2000 - 2400)
Bells are sounded in a pattern every thirty minutes. The maximum number of bells that can be struck is eight, hence the saying "eight bells and all is well." This is the common schedule of ship's bells that is repeated every four hours:
00:30 - 1 bell
01:00 - 2 bells
01:30 - 2 bells, pause, 1 bell
02:00 - 2 bells, pause, 2 bells
02:30 - 2 bells, pause, 2 bells, pause, 1 bell
03:00 - 2 bells, pause, 2 bells, pause, 2 bells
03:30 - 2 bells, pause, 2 bells, pause, 2 bells, pause, 1 bell
04:00 - 2 bells, pause, 2 bells, pause, 2 bells, pause, 2 bells
With the end of the watch, eight bells are sounded and the sailor was relieved. All watches follow the routine schedule except for the two Dog Watches. The first Dog Watch sees only four bells sounded at its end and the Second Dog Watch is finished with eight.
Bells are sounded for other purposes. At New Year's Eve, 16 bells are sounds with 8 given for the old year and 8 sounded to bring in the new year. Bells are sounded rapidly for five seconds during periods of low visibility and fog. Bells ringing for a longer period signals a general ship alarm. Ultimately the passing of a sailor is marked with the ringing of eight bells. Sounding of the ship's bell is a powerful reminder of the traditions rooted in long held maritime tradition.