Ship's Bells

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Ringing the ship's bell

A Ship's bells are used to indicate time onboard ship. One bell sounds for each half hour.[1] Bells are rung in pairs to make it easier to count.[2] Thus, for a watch starting at 12:00, one bell means 12:30, two bells mean 1:00, two bells pause 1 bell means 1:30, and so on until 4:00 ("eight bells"). This cycle starts again for the next watch.

The use of 30 minutes as the interval between bells originates from the use of a half hour glass to keep time. Each half hour, the glass would be flipped and the appropriate count of the bell would be rung.[3]

Number of bells Hour
One bell 12:30 4:30 8:30
Two bells 1:00 5:00 9:00
Three bells 1:30 5:30 9:30
Four bells 2:00 6:00 10:00
Five bells 2:30 6:30 10:30
Six bells 3:00 7:00 11:00
Seven bells 3:30 7:30 11:30
Eight bells 4:00 8:00 12:00


  1. U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration