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Thread: Watches & Bells

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    Default Watches & Bells

    This is a very basic question, so forgive my ignorance. My dad talked about the standard watches as being (in the early 1950s)

    The First Watch - 8 p.m. to midnight
    The Middle Watch - from midnight to 4 a.m.
    The Morning Watch - 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
    The Forenoon Watch - 8 a.m. to noon
    The Afternoon Watch - noon to 4 p.m.
    The First Dog Watch - 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
    The Last Dog Watch - 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

    I'm interested in whether those 'watches' still operate - accepting that some jobs would work a more normal day-shift - and whether the "bells" system transferred from the RN to the Merchant Service - and if so - how long it lasted.

    Lesley

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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    Lesley I went to sea, MN, as an engineer in 1974 and must admit I have never heard of the system you talk about with named watches, First watch etc. We did have the four hour watches you talk about though. Also I do not remember the ringing of bells to let you know the time.
    Many ships in the engine room ran UMS (Unmanned machinery space) where there are alarms systems and standby machinery which start automatically if one was to fail also the bridge has control of the main engines. The engineers are on day shift 8am to 5pm with one guy on duty overnight, he did day shift but was on call through the night incase of eventualities. I believe some costal vessals did 6 on 6 off but I never came across that system.
    In later days I worked on drill ships which had a full marine crew of engineers and mates , as well as a drilling crew and on those we did 12 on 12 off with shifts changes at either 12am, 12pm or 6am, 6pm.
    I have been retired a few years now (8) and I would imagine that the 4on 8 off system still operates for all mates and some engineers.
    I was on one tanker where we talked the chief engineer into letting the engineers do 8 on 16 off and it worked well but this was a one off I never saw it on any other ships.
    Senior Member

    UK003715

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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    #1 I was at sea in the MN late sixties early seventies . I was a seagoing Engineer on dry Cargo-vessels and used the watch keeping system you describe with the exception of the Dog watches . The ships I served on had Manned engine rooms for all watches . We used the bell system to announce the watch cycle.
    The common watches were 8 to 12 this was designated the masters & chief Engineers watch served by the 3 officer & 4 th engineer on their behalf of their senior officers.
    12 To 4 watch was designated the 2nd officer and third engineer served by themselves and an assistant watch keeper. Probably a Deck Cadet and a quarter master
    The 4 to 8 watch was designated the Chief officer (1st Mate) & the second engineer , served by themselves again and assistant watch keepers Deck cadet and Junior engineer.
    The 12 To 4 watch keepers served a meal relief for the 4 to 8 watch at 18 :00 hours and the. 4 to 8 watch keepers served a meal relief for for the 8 :12 at 08 :00 hrs
    I don’t know where the Bell system came from but it was used to synchronise the watches
    Some other may know the origins of this or other systems predating my time at Sea
    Doug

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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    Hi Lesley

    The dog watches were Royal Navy only. 4pm to 6pm then 6pm to 8pm. It was used for rotating watches.

    M.N. were as shown by others, 8-12, 12-4, 4-8.

    The bells were time signals. ie 0830 1bell 0900 2bells 0930 3bells etc etc until the end of the watch 8 bells. The same for each watch.

    Hope that helps.
    Last edited by Graham Payne; 14th February 2024 at 05:50 PM.
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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    #3 Time changes on a daily basis on a ship travelling E or W. This also if a large amount say an Hour was divided by 3 for the 3 watches of 20 minutes each. At a time specified by the second mate. If the time change was small say 15 minutes and the clocks going forwards it was usual for this to be done in the dog watches , the mates watch. Rank had its privileges.
    The bells were a system of time keeping mainly for watch keepers , but anyone could set their watch , if they owned one, by them. Distances run daily fuel consumptions etc were logged noon to noon. Noon was another official time check with the Engine room usually done on the telegraph. Time could be what you made it at sea and for convenience sake noon or when the sun was on your meridian was usually made about 1150 to enable one to get their lunch in time for the catering staff to get off for their 2 hours siesta in the afternoon. 1300 to 1500 was the hopefully quite period on deck for this, and was only the morons who insisted on chipping. JS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 14th February 2024 at 09:40 PM.
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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    #2 When I left the North Sea on the safety vessels there were only a master and mate and was 6 on and 6 off supposedly . Supply vessels supposedly 12 on and 12 off. If working snatching at the installation the master was expected to do 18 hours I was informed by one OIM. For all the hours and regulations I used to use the old system as long as possible and would only work the extra hours if necessary. I did not inform the owners of course you must realize. To work just for works sake has never appealed to me and is when accidents occur. JS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 14th February 2024 at 09:52 PM.
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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    When I was 4th both myself and 5th engineer had to relieve the 2nd and his 5th at 08-00 hrs. At 18-00hrs both myself and 5th went down below to let the 2nd and his 5th up for tea. At 20-00hrs both myself and 5th were down below again,were r this time wearing boiler suits to relieve the 2nd and his 5th engineer. Now the 4th and his 5th engineer were on watch keeping duties on the 20-00hrs to midnight stint.

    Fouro.

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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    When I left the sea and at night, all such things of the past were very rare. The bells were no longer rung. They were not answered from the focsle by the lookout and the navigation lights reported by voice to the bridge as burning bright or otherwise.reason 1 there was insufficient manpower to have an extra lookout apart from yourself. And reason 2, the ringing of bells kept what little manpower you had awake. Safety is in the eye of the believer. The voice reporting of the lights served another reason, to prove the lookout was awake. JS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 15th February 2024 at 01:11 AM.
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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    The ships I was on always worked the three watches, in the early days as John said seamen very seldom had a watch so the man on the wheel usually rang the bell via a cord that ran across the deckhead of the wheel house and was attached to the bell hanging outside the window, essential at times as his relief would be working somewhere on deck, gave him time to get a smoke and maybe a cuppa. At night as john said the bells where not rung in case it woke the skipper, beside there was a clock in the mess room where the relief was waiting to come to the wheel or look out.
    Des
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    Default Re: Watches & Bells

    AS officers steward back in the 60's it was three 4 hour watches twice a day.
    4to8 8to 12 12 to 4.

    Not sure about modern ships, from what I have heard on containers there are only similar watches for engine room.
    Cruise ships still use the system as shown but the names of officers is different now.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
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