7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ship's Bells

By Susan F. Craft

     When watching movies or reading novels about ships at sea, have you ever wondered what the bells indicated?
      In the age of sailing, the periods of time that sailors worked were called “watches.” These hours of duty were coordinated with a 30-minute hourglass. Therefore, bells were struck every half-hour when the hourglass was turned, and in a pattern of pairs for easier counting, with any odd bells at the end of the sequence.
        So, unlike civilian clock bells, the strikes of the bell did not accord to the number of the hour. Instead, there were eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch.
       The first five watches are as follows:
First Watch,              8 pm to Midnight         (20:00 to 00:00 hours)
Middle Watch,         Midnight to 4 am          (00:00 to 04:00 hours)
Morning Watch,       4 am to am                   (04:00 to 08:00 hours)
Forenoon Watch,      8 am to Noon              (08:00 to 12:00 hours)
Afternoon Watch,     Noon to 4 pm              (12:00 to 16:00 hours)
The next four hours are divided into two Dog Watches—the first Dog Watch, 4 pm to 6 pm (16:00 to 18:00 hours) and the Second Dog Watch, 6 pm to 8 pm (18:00 to 20:00 hours). By means of the Dog Watches, the watches can be changed every day, so that each watch gets a turn of eight hours rest at night. Otherwise each member of the crew would be on duty the same hours every day.

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

Bells are sounded for other purposes. At midnight on New Year's Eve, 16 bells are sounded 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. The passing of a sailor is marked with the ringing of eight bells, a nautical euphemism for “finished.”
     According to seafaring legend, the ship's cooks and boatswain's mates had a duty arrangement to give the cooks more sleep. The boatswain's mates, who worked 24 hours a day on watches, would build the fire in the stove, so that when the cook arose a little while later, the fire would be already going so he could begin preparing breakfast. In return, between meals, the cooks would shine the bell, which was traditionally the boatswain's mates' responsibility.

     Nautical superstition --the ringing of bells is associated with funerals, so sounds mimicking bells were thought to forecast death. The ringing of a wine glass was such a sound, and had to be stopped before its reverberation ended. Ship’s bells were exempted from this superstition, because they signaled time and the changing of watch duties. But if they rang of their own accord, as in a storm, somebody was going to die.
     Ringing of midday bell on the QM2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur5GT6_wuWs

Susan F. Craft is the author of the award-winning novel, The Chamomile,
a Revolutionary War romantic suspense set in Charleston, SC.


  1. Thank you for this lucid explanation. I've always wondered and didn't know where to look for the information.

    1. Thank you, Judith. I love running across and sharing information like this, especially when I know there are others just as curious about stuff as I am. :-)

  2. I had always wondered about this! Thanks for sharing. Love the bell info. :)

  3. I grew up in a Navy family so I was well acquainted with ships clocks. I have one on my wall as well as one on my computer. Thanks, Susan, for such an informative post. ;-)

    1. That's interesting you have one on your computer!

  4. Interesting, Susan! I've not seen this information elsewhere. Neato!

  5. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.


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