Navy Whistle


Name of Object: Whistle
Object Type: Whistle
Category: T&E for communication
Sub-Category: Musical T&E
Material: Metal
Accession Number: 1985.001.041
Height: 2.5
Length: 11.5
Institution: Veterans Memorial Military Museum
Institution City: Kensington
Institution Province: Prince Edward Island
Description: Whistle, metal, stainless steel; chain attached by clasp and then to
a circular ring. Chain is 64cm long, there are no visible markings


Photo: Navy Whistle on display


This whistle was used by the Canadian Navy and was donated to the Veterans Memorial Military Museum by Eric Campbell, it is unknown which of the wars it was used in. Whistles have been used for various reasons throughout the history of the Canadian military. Primarily, they were used to initiate a pre-set plan so that all parts that were within earshot would be able to move simultaneously. In particular, the Canadian Navy used a whistle called the “Bosn’ Whistle” or a Boatswain’s Call. This whistle was used on naval ships for a variety of reasons, such as, to command order, soup time, or colors ceremonies. Although the Boatswain’s Call whistle did not receive this name until 1671, the use of the whistle dates as far back as the Crusades in 1248. In earlier years, this whistle was worn on English ships as a badge of rank, because it was always used for passing orders. After 1562, it was used in the English fleet for passing all orders. Today, the whistle is still used for ceremonial purposes on board HMCS ships.[i]

The whistle received its name from the Boatswain officer who used the whistle, because they issued more orders than the other officers on the ship.[ii] The whistle became more frequently used because the officers found other ways of communicating orders, such as by voice, ineffective when it came to competing with large gusts of wind and stormy conditions at seas. The whistle’s high pitch allowed for it to be heard over even the worst howling gales. While in the past the Boatswain’s call was used to make nonverbal commands, that is not entirely the case anymore; sometimes the whistle is used for a combination of verbal and non-verbal commands.[iii]

In order to use the Boatswain’s Call whistle, the whistle must be held between the index finger and thumb, with the thumb being on or near the shackle. The side of the buoy rests against the palm of the hand. The fingers close over the gun and buoy hole so that they are able to throttle the exit of air from the buoy to the desired amount. Care must be taken so that the fingers do not touch the edge of the hole in the buoy, or over the hole in the end of the gun, otherwise all sound will be completely choked. The Boatswain’s call has two pitches and three tones for “piping” (making a command): a low pitch, a high pitch, a plane tone, a warble tone, and a trill tone. A low pitch is made by blowing steadily into the mouth of the gun with the hole of the buoy unobstructed by the fingers. A high pitch is produced by throttling the exit of air from the hole of the buoy. This is done by closing the fingers around the buoy, taking care not to touch the edge of the hole or the end of the gun. The sound of the Warble tone is made by repeatedly moving your hand quickly from the high to the low position, which in turn produces a sound similar to a canary. Finally, the trill tone is produced by vibrating the tongue while blowing, as in rolling the letter "R." Common commands used by the Navy include: the still, carry on, general call, officer of the day call, pipe the side, hands to dinner, and pipe down.[iv]



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