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Ship's bell: Wikis


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A ship's bell is usually made of brass, and has the ship's name engraved on it. The ship's cook (or his/her staff) traditionally has the job of shining the ship's bell.

Strikes of a ship's bell are used to indicate the hour aboard a ship and thereby to regulate the sailors' duty watches.

Ship's bell on USS Chancellorsville

Unlike civil clock bells, the strikes of the bell do not accord to the number of the hour. Instead, there are eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch. Bells would be struck every half-hour, and in a pattern of pairs for easier counting, with any odd bells at the end of the sequence.

The classical system was:

Number of bells Bell Pattern Middle
One bell . 0:30 4:30 8:30 12:30 16:30 18:30* 20:30
Two bells .. 1:00 5:00 9:00 13:00 17:00 19:00* 21:00
Three bells .. . 1:30 5:30 9:30 13:30 17:30 19:30* 21:30
Four bells .. .. 2:00 6:00 10:00 14:00 18:00 22:00
Five bells .. .. . 2:30 6:30 10:30 14:30 18:30  22:30
Six bells .. .. .. 3:00 7:00 11:00 15:00 19:00  23:00
Seven bells .. .. .. . 3:30 7:30 11:30 15:30 19:30  23:30
Eight bells .. .. .. .. 4:00 8:00 12:00 16:00 20:00  0:00

*British usage after the Nore mutiny[1]

At midnight on New Year's Eve sixteen bells would be struck - eight bells for the old year and eight bells for the new.

Ship bell of ORP Iskra II - Polish Navy school tall ship

Most of the crew of a ship would be divided up into between two and four groups called watches. Each watch would take its turn with the essential activities of manning the helm, navigating, trimming sails, and keeping a lookout.

The hours between 16:00 and 20:00 are so arranged because that watch (the "dog watch", which is curtailed) was divided into two. The odd number of watches aimed to give each man a different watch each day. It also allows the entire crew of a vessel to eat an evening meal, the normal time being at 1700 with First Dog watchmen eating at 1800.

Some "ship's bell" clocks use a simpler system:

Number of bells Bell Pattern Hour (a.m. and p.m.)
One bell . 12:30 4:30 8:30
Two bells .. 1:00 5:00 9:00
Three bells .. . 1:30 5:30 9:30
Four bells .. .. 2:00 6:00 10:00
Five bells .. .. . 2:30 6:30 10:30
Six bells .. .. .. 3:00 7:00 11:00
Seven bells .. .. .. . 3:30 7:30 11:30
Eight bells .. .. .. .. 4:00 8:00 12:00
"Eight bells" by Winslow Homer, 1887

The term "Eight bells" can also be a way of saying that a sailor's watch is over, for instance, in his or her obituary. It's a nautical euphemism for "finished".

Ship's bells are also used for safety in foggy conditions, their most important modern use.[2]

The ship's name is traditionally engraved on the bell, often with the year the ship was launched as well. Occasionally (especially on more modern ships) the bell will also carry the name of the shipyard that built the ship. If a ship's name is changed, maritime tradition is that the original bell carrying the original name will remain with the vessel. A ship's bell is a prized possession when a ship is broken up,[2] and often provides the only positive means of identification in the case of a shipwreck.

baby is baptized with holy water from the ship's bell

It is a naval tradition to baptize children using the ship's bell as a baptismal font and to engrave the names of the children on the naval bell afterwards. Tracking down and searching for an individual's name on a specific bell from a ship may be a difficult and time-consuming task. Christening information from the bells held by the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt Museum has been entered into a searchable data archive that is accessible to any interested web site visitors. [3]


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