leslie's guiding traditions

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Bosun's Call or Whistle


"Sea Rangers have the privilege of wearing the "Boatswain's Call"; anyone keen enough can quite easily learn to use it, and will find it most useful at club room musters and in camp, as well as on board ship.  For hundreds of hears the boatswain's whistle has been used in ships as a method of passing orders.  It's use in English ships has been traced back to about 1248 AD."


"In the Royal Navy the "Boatswain's Call" is used to pass orders by certain recognized sounds, and by sounds followed by a shouted order; and also to give salutes and marks of respect.  Piping is really the shouting, or singint out, of the order following the use of the call, but now the whole procedure is generally known as 'Piping.'"


"Pipe the side" was originally used when the only means of entering a ship was by the vertical ladder up her tarry sides, so officers and distinguished visiters were hoisted up in a boatswain's chair, the movement of which was regulated by the use of the call . . . In the Royal Navy, it is never used for civilians or military officers, and only between sunrise and sunset, except for foreign executive naval officers."


From Sea Sense - Sea Ranger Handbook, 1938 edition

"In piping, the different notes are produced by throttling the air escaping from the 'gun' across the 'orifice' in the 'buoy', so it is most important to begin by holding the call correctly.  The buoy is held firmly to the ball of the thumb with the first finger crooked over the gun, the tip of the thumb being at the edge of the 'keel' above the 'shackle', the orifice thus being uppermost.  Then the throttling is done with the other three fingers moving up and down together, but not touching the orifice or that end of the gun.  An expert can produce at least eight notes.  When several calls are used together they must be in tune,  A call may be tuned by scraping the wind edge of the orifice in the buoy.


Different kinds of notes can be produced.  A clear note is obtained by blowing into the call with an even pressure, and this is altered by throttling with the fingers, as described.  Then a trill is produced by vibrating the tongue when blowing, as in rolling the letter 'R'; and a warble is the result of blowing with a vibrating pressure, the effect being supposedly like a canary singing.


Sea Ranger Crews may invent their own pipes.  The following are used at Sea Ranger musters and trainings:


'Still' = 'Attention.' - A long, high note, beginning and ending sharply.

'All Hands'; and 'Lash up and stow' when followed by the pipe 'Lash up and stow.  Lash up and stow.  Show a leg.  Show a leg.  Show a leg.  Sun's scorching your eyes out.  Wakee, wakee, wakee'. - A low, vibrating note, rising steeply to a high, steady note, ending sharply, then a low note rising to a high note and falling to a low one.  This last part may be repeated.

'P.L.s,' or 'Boatswains.' - Two high, short notes, repeated three or four times.

'Pipe down' = finish. - A high, short note, followed by a trilled high note, falling to a trilled low note, and rising to a trilled high note, finishing sharply.

'Pipe the Side.' - A long, slow pipe may last twelve seconds, beginning on a low note, rising to a high one, then falling to a low one.

'Pipe to a Meal.' - 'Pipe the Side' call twice, then two short, high notes, a trilled high note falling sharply to a trilled low note, then the 'Pipe Down' call.

'Carry On.' - A short, high note, falling sharply to a low note."


From Sea Sense - Sea Ranger Handbook, 1938 edition