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The History Of The Boatswain Call

The boatswain's pipe is one of the oldest and most distinctive pieces of personal nautical equipment and was once the only method other than human voice of passing orders to men on board ship.

A pipe or flute was used in the days on antiquity, by which the slaves of Greece and Rome kept stroke.

There is a record that the pipe was used in the crusade of 1248 when the English cross bowman were called on deck to attack by its signal. Shakespeare mentioned the pipe in the Tempest and Pepys refers to its use in naval notes.

In time the pipe came to be used as a badge of office, in some cases it was a badge of honour.

The Lord High Admiral carried a gold pipe on a chain around his neck. A silver pipe was used by high commanders as a badge of office or "whistle of command" in addition to the gold whistle of honour.

In the action off Brest on the 25th Apr 1513, between Sir Edward Howard, Lord High Admiral and son of the earl of Surrey, and the Chevalier Pregant de Bidoux, it is related that when the lord High Admiral was certain that he would be captured, he threw his gold whistle into the sea. The silver whistle of command was later found on his body.

The Boatswain's Pipe
The Boatswain's Pipe

The weight of a standard whistle of honour and names for its parts were designated by Henry VIII.

The monarch decreed that it should weigh 12 "oons" of gold (oon meaning ounce). The chain was to be of gold and to have an equivalent in gold ducats, the ducat being an unusaul gold coin formerly used in various European countries.

About 1671 it was referred to as Call, being known by in the Navy as Boatswain, pronounced "Bosun", refers to the mate, warrant officer or petty officer in charge of boats rigging and ground tackle aboard a ship.

In old English the word "swain" meant servant of keeper. The later English term was boatswayn.

In the 17th century, British ships were required by law to carry three boats, The boat, The cock and the Skiff. The men in charge of them were called boatswains, coxswains and skiffswain.

The boatswain was the officer in charge of rigging, sails and sailing equipment. Men were rigidly trained, almost like sheepdogs to respond immediately to the piping of the call, it was easier to hear the high pitched tones of the call as a shouted order could not be heard in a storm.

The use of a call eliminates confusion and misunderstanding. there is a call for every activity, such as the hoisting and lowering of boats, argo, and even burial at sea. Of interest, only the boatswain's mate is permitted to salute with the left hand, assuming the right hand is used with the call.

The call should be held between the index finger and thumb, with the thumb on or near the shackle.

The side of the bouy rests against the palm of the hand and the fingers close to the gun and the bouy hole in the position to throttle the exit of air from the bouy.

Source: The Submariner



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