The Boatswain's Call or whistle, was once the only method other than
the human voice of passing orders to men on board ship. Today more sophisticated
communications systems exist but the Royal Navy, always believers in tradition,
still use the Boatswain's Call as a mark of respect to pipe the Captain
or special visitors on board, or for emphasising important orders. The
boatswain was the officer in charge of rigging, sails and sailing equipment.
He therefore needed to issue orders more often than other officers and
so the whistle was named after him. In the old days men were rigidly trained,
almost like sheepdogs, to respond immediately to the piping of the Call.
At sea, in moments of danger - particularly in storms - they could be counted
on to hear the high-pitched tones of the Call, and react without delay.
A shouted order may not have been heard above the sound of howling winds
and lashing waves. Instructions to hoist sails, haul or let go ropes were
conveyed by different notes and pitches. It is known that the galley slaves
of Rome and Greece kept stroke to the sound of a flute or whistle similar
to the Boatswain's Call. It was first used on English ships in the thirteenth
century, during the crusades, and became known as "The Call"
about 1670 when the Lord High Admiral of the Navy wore a gold whistle as
a badge of rank. This was known as the "Whistle of Honour." The
ordinary whistle of command was issued in silver and often each officer
had his own Call decorated with rope designs and ship's anchors. Each section
of the Boatswain's Call has a nautical name. The ball is the buoy; the
mouthpiece is the gun; the ring is called the shackle and the leaf is called