Bosun's Call

The use of the bosun's call goes back to the 13th century when it was introduced to pass messages on a ship. Using a whistle meant that messages could be heard even in the strongest of winds. The bosun's call was used as a badge of rank as it was a means of giving orders.

Today the bosun's call is officially the 'boatswain's call' and it is used alongside more sophisticated means of communication by the Royal Navy as they are great believers in tradition. The bosun's call is also used by Sea Scout Troops across the world.

Bosun's Call

The Bosun's Call is pictured above, it is attached to a rope lanyard (metal chain for the Royal Navy) and worn as part of uniform.


The call should be held between the index finger and thumb, with the thumb on or near the shackle The side of the buoy rests against the palm of the hand and the fingers close over the gun and buoy hole in position to throttle the exit of air from the buoy to the desired amount. Care should be taken not to touch the hole of the buoy or the end of the gun, or the sound will be choked.

There are two main notes; the low and the high, and three tones; the plain, the warble and the trill.

The low note is produced by blowing steadily into the mouth of the gun with the hole of the buoy unobstructed by the fingers.

The high note 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 warble is produced by blowing a series of jerks, which results in a warble similar to that of a canary.

The trill is produced by vibrating the tongue while blowing, as in rolling the letter R.

How to hold


The Still and the Carry On

The two main pipes used by Sea Scouts are the 'Still' and the 'Carry On'. Each of these is described below. In Sea Scouting the two pipes make up the colours ceremony.

The Still

The still is used to call all hands to attention as a mark of respect, or to order silence on any occasion. The still is also used to announce the arrival onboard of a senior Officer. The pipe is an order in itself and does not require any verbal addition.

This is the signal for the colours to be hoisted at colours ceremony.


The Carry On

The carry on is used to cancel the still. The pipe is an order in itself and does not require any verbal addition.

This follows the still at colours.


Piping the side as a mark of respect

The best known use of the Boatswain's Call is for "Piping the Side", the signal of respect which, in the Royal Navy, is reserved for the Sovereign, senior Royal Navy officers and for all foreign naval officers. A corpse when being brought on board or sent out of a ship is also piped, but the Side is never piped at any shore establishment.

This mark of respect owes its origins to the days when captains used to visit other ships when at sea. On such occasions the visiting captain was hoisted aboard from his boat in a chair slung on a whip rope from the lower yard-arm, to the accompaniment of the pipe of the boatswain giving orders to the men manning the whip.

Courtsey of 4th Knowle Sea Scout Group