64th Birkenhead Sea Scouts

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Boatswain's Call


The Boatswain's Call

The boatswains (bosun's) call was traditionally used by the bosun onboard man-o-war's to relay orders to the crew high in the rigging where the shrill of the pipe could be heard above the wind and cannons.

Nowadays, the bosun's call is used mainly for ceremonial occasions such as colours and visits by dignitaries. It is still used as a mark of respect to pipe aboard senior officers, for calling the hands, and prior to a general announcement.


Using the Boatswain's Call

In order to produce the desired notes, the pipe must first be held correctly.

The 3 main notes which can be produced are:

  1. The plain - Low or high note made by controlling exit of air from buoy
  2. The trill - Obtained by blowing in a series of jerks
  3. The warble - Produced by vibrating the tongue while blowing, as if rolling the letter "R".

By putting these basic notes together, an array of calls can be made.


A constant high tone for 8 seconds followed by an abrupt end. Used during the colours ceremony and to gain the attention of the crew prior to issuing a verbal order.


A high tone, quickly changing to a low tone. Each section should last for 1 second. Also used in the ceremony of colours and to instruct the crew to return to normal duties.


Traditionally used to instruct the crew when hoisting a captain aboard ship. Used today to signify the arrival of a senior officer or dignitary on ship (should not be used on a shore establishment).


Usually three sounded in succession followed by a verbal command (e.g. hands to harbour stations).


Still used onboard ship to wake the crew (i.e. call the hands). Quite a complicated call.


Open Hand = Low Note
Closed Hand = High Note

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