U.S. NAVY CWO BOATSWAIN (BM) SOFT EPAULETS

Of all the myriad duties and assignments that fall under the purview of the Boatswain’s Mate (BM), perhaps none is as instantly distinctive as that of the boatswain’s call—the whistlelike sound made on a pipe that is used to convey a variety of orders related to both special and routine activities.

The use of the boatswain’s pipe can be traced back to the days of rowing galleys, where it was blown to “call the stroke,” i.e., give the rowers a rhythm to which they could uniformly pull. Because its high pitch meant it could be heard at a distance over normal workaday activity, the boatswain’s pipe soon came to be employed to communicate orders. Probably the most well-known command that can be transmitted via a boatswain’s call is the Side or Away Galley, which came about from the tradition of bringing officers aboard by hauling them up in a chair.

Of course, a Boatswain’s Mate could be the finest piper in the world, and it would mean little if the crew didn’t know what the various pitches and pauses meant. To help Sailors memorize the sound of the boatswain’s call, the Bureau of Naval Personnel hired the Special Devices Center in Port Washington, Long Island to create a 78 RPM record titled “Shipboard Calls and Commands” that introduced sailors to the various components of a boatswain’s call and how they are put together to create a command. Recorded on May 11, 1950, the record was divided into Emergency Calls (Man Overboard, Abandon Ship, Torpedo Defense, and so forth) and Routine Calls (Relieve the Watch, Church Call, Pay Call, and of course Liberty Call).

Coordinating shipboard honors and ceremonies is a task assigned to Boatswain’s Mates at a paygrade of E6, at which point their Job Title is Ships And Boats Mates.

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