Ship’s Bells

Hear the time tolled in ships' bells every half hour

Hear the time tolled in ship’s bells every half hour

Those bells you hear – two at a time on the top of the hour, and ending with a single on the half hour – come from the belfry of the Congregational church on Main street.  This is the Wellfleet “Town Clock” and is reportedly the only town clock in the country that sounds “ship’s time”.

Ship’s time marks every half-hour during a 4-hour watch (or shift).  Watches begin at 12, 4 and 8 o’clock (both am and pm). Thirty minutes after the start of a watch is marked with one bell. One hour into a watch, two bells are heard. A half hour later three bells are played as a set of two bells close together followed by a lone bell.  And so on until the end of one watch and the beginning of the next is marked with eight bells played as four pairs of bells (ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding). The number of two-bell pairs tells you how many hours it is past the beginning of the watch, and a single bell tells you it is the half-hour.

Because watches are spaced four hours apart, it should be easy to tell if, for example, three bells is 1:30, 5:30 or 9:30 – am or pm.

Number of bells Time
 1 12:30 4:30 8:30
2 1:00 5:00 9:00
3 1:30 5:30 9:30
4 2:00 6:00 10:00
5 2:30 6:30 10:30
6 3:00 7:00 11:00
7 3:30 7:30 11:30
8 4:00 8:00 12:00