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Watches and bells

Note: all times are based on the 24 hour clock, midnight to midnight. But, see Nautical time and civil date and GMT, Universal, Civil and Atomic

While the origins are somewhat uncertain, but date back at least to the fifteenth century, a "watch" is traditionally a time period of four hours, during which half the crew (the "Port Watch" or the "Starbord Watch") is on duty (working, on deck, etc - "on watch") and the other half is resting ("off watch").

The evening watch, from 1600-2000 hours (4pm to 8pm) is further subdivided into First and Last Dog watches (Second Dog watch in the US Navy); this gives an uneven number of watches each day, so that the crew alternates the "graveyard" watch (starting at midnight, this is normally the least popular time to be on duty) and also serves for the evening meal.

Bells are used to mark the time during the watch, and are based on turning a half hour watch glass (a figure-of-eight or double-bubble hourglass holding a known quatity of sand); at the first turn on each watch the bell would be struck once, on the second turn twice, etc ..., with the sounds grouped by pairs:

Midnight or Mid Morning Forenoon Afternoon Dogs First
0030 - 1 bell 0430 - 1 bell 0830 - 1 bell 1230 - 1 bell 1630 - 1 bell 2030 - 1 bell
0100 - 2 bells (sounded as one pair) 0500 - 2 bells 0900 - 2 bells 1300 - 2 bells 1700 - 2 bells 2100 - 2 bells
0130 - 3 bells (one pair and a single) 0530 - 3 bells 0930 - 3 bells 1330 - 3 bells 1730 - 3 bells 2130 - 3 bells
0200 - 4 bells (two pairs) 0600 - 4 bells 1000 - 4 bells 1400 - 4 bells 1800 - 4 bells 2200 - 4 bells
0230 - 5 bells (two pairs and a single) 0630 - 5 bells 1030 - 5 bells 1430 - 5 bells 1830 - 5 bells 2230 - 5 bells
0300 - 6 bells (three pairs) 0700 - 6 bells 1100 - 6 bells 1500 - 6 bells 1900 - 6 bells 2300 - 6 bells
0330 - 7 bells (three pairs and a single) 0730 - 7 bells 1130 - 7 bells 1530 - 7 bells 1930 - 7 bells 2330 - 7 bells
0400 - 8 bells (four pairs) 0800 - 8 bells 1200 - 8 bells 1600 - 8 bells 2000 - 8 bells 2400 - 8 bells

Note: The end of the watch is considered at 8 bells, hence the saying "Eight bells and all is well."

See also "Time at sea"

 

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