THE BOATSWAINS CALL [OR WHISTLE], MORE OFTEN THAN NOT CALLED THE BOSUN'S CALL, IS A NAVAL INSTRUMENT USED FOR CEREMONY AND FOR SOUND SIGNALLING ORDERS AND COMMANDS THROUGHOUT THE SHIP. FOR MANY YEARS NOW IT HAS BEEN A PART OF A NAVAL TRIO WHERE THE SHIPS BELL, THE BOSUN'S CALL AND THE BUGLE HAVE ALL HAD THEIR UNIQUE SOUNDS TRANSMITTED OVER THE SHIPS TANNOY SYSTEM TO SIGNAL AN EVENT.  ALL COULD BE USED INDEPENDANT OF THE TANNOY SYSTEM, THE SHIPS BELL IN SITU TO WARN OF FIRE, THE CALL AND THE BUGLE EITHER IN THE VANGUARD OF A SENIOR OFFICERS INSPECTING PARTY OR FOR SALUTING SENIOR OFFICERS EMBARKED IN SHIPS IN CLOSE PROXIMITY, AND IN ONE'S OWN SHIP WHEN THE COMMANDING OFFICER LEAVES OR RETURNS TO THE SHIP AND IF A FLAGSHIP, THE SAME FOR THE ADMIRAL. IT IS ALSO A TRADIIONAL WELCOME AND SALUTE FOR VIP'S VISITING THE SHIP.

Generally, pipes/calls were used in fleet destroyers and below and the bugle in cruisers and above.  Neither was needed or used in a submarine!  It was the usual practice that sailors blew into the 'gun' of the bosun's call whereas a royal marine would blow into the mouth piece of a bugle.  Depending upon the size and duty of a ship, a battleship/battlecruiser carrying a Flag, the bonsun's mate could have been a petty officer down to able rate, although one of the perks of being a confirmed petty officer dressed in fore and aft rig, was that he no longer had QM duties.  In this picture we see a non-confirmed petty officer [wearing square rig] performing the duties  The ship? Well any self respecting Englishman naval man with any pride in his home county would readily recognise the ships crest showing a big white rose, meaning of course Yorkshire, hence HMS Duke of York.  However, the ruling was not set in stone as this WW2 picture shows with the QM Mate firmly in charge of a bugle. A senior admirals flagship would warrant a Royal Marine Band for Colours with the still being sounded on a bugle. A cruiser would generally employ a bugle [negat band] whilst every part of the ceremony in a destroyer downwards would involve the bosuns's call.

The rules around the fleet, were that each and every sailor could be called upon to use the call which was considered to be a part of general naval training received by all lower deck men. Not so the bugle which was a specialist instrument and any rating so qualified in its use wore a badge on the cuff of his tunic and duly received an extra allowance. Under RM management, all ratings so qualified had to undergo a refresher course as and when he could be spared.

After WW2, the notion that all lower deckers were au fait with the bosun's call ceased, but volunteers could still receive instructions and were allowed to wear a call-chain around their neck when dressed in either No2's or No1's. All personnel on the gangway staff kept their call in good shape and practiced quite often ready in case that they had to pipe the side for VIP's visiting the ship as well as the CO arriving and leaving from shore.

Looking at the piping chart in the third plate below, we see 15 separate pipes. In actual fact, most of what we need and used revolved around Pipe No 4.

If you take pipe No4 = GENERAL CALL, we used that throughout the navy to precede spoken examples as follows:-

No 4 "Out pipes. Hands carry on with your work"  No 4 "Up Spirits"   No4 "Mail is now ready for collection"  No4 " Secure. Dye hear there. The last mail will close at 0600 tomorrow"   No4  "Able Seaman Smith lay aft"  No4 "Afternoon watchmen to dinner" No 4 "Stand Easy" etc etc etc.

These four plates below will help you to understand everything there is to know about the bonsun's call, why it is used and what it conveys to the ships company and to pan-navy modus operandi.

     

       

Finally, have a look at this inter related file.  It covers the prerequisite knowledge required by all operators of the tannoy system.

THE_ORIGINS_OF_DO_YOU_HEAR_THERE