Eight Bells by Winslow Homer (1887)
Eight Bells by Winslow Homer (1887)

The Ships Clock application will ring a bell on every half-hour in the style of the standard ship's clock. That standard has its roots in centuries of sailing ships around the world where clocks were impractical, and is still used in present-day navies. It is based on four-hour watches: each watch was on duty for four hours starting at the hour of 12, 4, or 8 (am or pm). Each half-hour during a watch was marked by a single bell and each hour by a double bell. For example, starting at 12 o'clock:

  • 12:30 1 bell
  • 1:00 2 bells (as one double bell)
  • 1:30 3 bells (as one double, followed by one single bell)
  • 2:00 4 bells (two doubles)
  • ...
  • 3:30 7 bells (3 doubles, one single)
  • 4:00 8 bells (4 doubles)

At the end of this cycle, the pattern is repeated.

Why is a ship's clock useful, even in today's world of copious clocks and watches everywhere we look, and with no 4-hour watches in our daily lives? It provides an unobtrusive reminder of the current time without having to look at any clock, while giving us a link to the past (and, for those who were once in the Navy, to their youth). It is a fun and rewarding way of keeping track of time.

Of course, a clock that chimes on every hour provides a similar audible reminder of the time, but a ship's clock:

Ship's Clock
A modern Ship's Bell Clock
  • Chimes on every half-hour, rather than every hour.
  • Is far more elegant than an hourly chime that progresses from 1 to 12 chimes (try listening to a series of, say, 11 chimes with less than rapt attention and see how confident you are that it's not 10:00 or 12:00 without looking at the clock!)
  • Provokes interesting conversation whether your guests are familiar with nautical traditions or not.
  • Buying a real ship's clock can be expensive since they are a specialty item. But anyone who has a computer also has a clock, so running this application wil provide you with the same chimes as a real, live ship's clock for free!

External references:

Wikipedia page for Ship's Bells
Wikipedia page for many types of Striking Clocks
Makers of fine Ships Clocks
Chelsea and Weems & Plath
Master and Commander, the movie starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany
Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, upon which the movie was based Patrick O'Brian