Heirloom quality custom bronze ships bells

Traditions and Regulations

Ships Bells

Bronze ships bells have a centuries-long tradition of varied use in the navies and merchant fleets of the world. They have been used for signaling, keeping time, and providing alarm. Their functional and ceremonial uses have made them a symbol of considerable significance to the United States Navy. Historically, the sounding of the ships bell was a warning signal to other vessels in poor visibility and fog. Today, maritime law requires all ships to carry an efficient bell. See the United States Coast Guard website for accurate, up-to-date information about bell regulations at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/mwv/navrules/rules/Rule3233.htm

Before the advent of the chronometer, time at sea was measured by the trickle of sand through a half-hour glass. One of the ship's boys had the duty of watching the glass and turning it when the sand had run out. When he turned the glass, he struck the bell as a signal that he had performed this vital function. From this ringing of the bell as the glass was turned evolved the tradition of striking the bell once at the end of the first half hour of a four hour watch, twice after the first hour, etc., until eight bells marked the end of the four hour watch. The process was repeated for the succeeding watches. This age-old practice of sounding the ships bell on the hour and half hour has its place in the nuclear and missile oriented United States Navy at the dawn of the Twenty-First Century, regulating daily routine, just as it did on our historic vessels under sail in the late Eighteenth Century.

Another historical use for the bell is providing an alarm. Ships bells are an essential link in a ship's fire alarm system. In the event of a fire, the bell is rung rapidly for at least five seconds, followed by one, two or three rings to indicate the location of a fire - forward, amidships, or aft respectively.

Ceremonial Functions of Bells

In addition to continuing its role as a timepiece and alarm, bells serve in a number of ceremonial and memorial functions. For centuries, bells have been thought to bring blessings and good luck to newlyweds. Before and after the marriage ceremony, church wedding bells would ring out to provide protection from evil spirits, and also as a way to announce a special event happening at the church. Wedding bells have come to symbolize love and the promise of a new life shared together, and many couples today choose to incorporate a wedding bell into their ceremony for that reason.

Originating in the British Royal Navy, it is a custom to baptize a child under the ships bell; sometimes the bell is used as a christening bowl, filled with water for the ceremony. Once the baptism is completed, the child's name may be inscribed inside the bell. The bell remains with the ship while in service and with the Department of the Navy after decommissioning. In this way, an invisible tie is created between the country and its citizens.

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