This is traditionally made of brass with the ship's name engraved on it and with a short length of rope—known as the bell rope—spliced into the eye of the clapper. It is used for striking the bells which mark the passage of time on board ship, when the 24-hour day is divided into six watches. The passage of time in each watch is marked by the bell every half-hour, one bell marking the end of the first half-hour, and eight bells the end of each watch. However, with the two dog watches four bells is struck to indicate the end of the first one, then one is struck to mark the end of the first half-hour of the last dog watch. However, eight bells, not four, are struck to mark the end of the last dog watch. Seamen, when reporting the time, traditionally refer to it as bells. Thus, for example, half-past three is seven bells while five minutes to one is reported as five minutes to two bells and so on. In the US Navy sixteen bells is sometimes struck at midnight on 31 December to ring out the old and ring in the new year.
The ship's bell was also used, when no other audible signal was carried aboard, as a fog signal by ringing the bell for five seconds every minute. When a ship is broken up its bell often becomes a highly prized memento of service in the ship and they frequently command very high prices when offered for sale. See also southern cross; warm the bell, to.
Subjects: Maritime History.