Watch standing the bane of a sailor’s life. One must work a normal 8 to 12-hour day, and then clean up, put on a clean uniform, and report for a four-hour watch, sometimes in the middle of the night. A normal daily routine and a normal night’s sleep become nonexistent.
Watch. A watch is a vital job/position/station on a ship that must be constantly manned for the ship to operate effectively, efficiently, and safely.
Some watch stations are located in major operational areas of a ship, such as the bridge, engineering, navigation, etc. Some watch stations respond to emergencies, such as fire or flooding, be it on the ship or on other nearby ships. Some watch stations patrol the ship to insure security and good order and discipline, and to respond to disorders or criminal acts. Some types of watches include engineering watches (such as Engineering Officer of the Watch or Damage Control Watch Officer), navigational watches (such as Officer of the Deck, Boatswain's Mate of the Watch, or Helmsman), security watches (such as Officer of the Deck, Master-at-Arms, Sounding and Security, or Pier Sentry), or other types of watches (such as Anchor, Department Duty Officer, or Command Duty Officer).
Stand Watch. To stand a watch is to man a watch station for specific period of time.
Watch Stander. A watch stander is a person who has been trained and has been qualified to stand a particular watch station.
Watch (or Duty) Sections. Watch standers are assigned to watch/duty sections. Each section has duty for a length of time, which may be a number of hours or one or more days. The number of sections and the number of watch standers in each section depends upon the number of watches that must be stood and the number of qualified personnel available to stand the watches. The highest number of duty sections is usually 6; the lowest is 2; and 3 is the usual number.
Watch Duration. The duration of watches will vary between commands due to the needs of the commands; however, the usual duration of a watch is four hours stating at 0400. In the traditional watch system, leftover from the days of sail, the ships company is divided into three sections and the day divided into six watches, each of four hours duration. Each day, a watch stander would stand a four-hour watch followed by eight hours off, followed by a four-hour watch, etc. During the times off watch, the sailor would work at normal job duties, eat, have some recreation time, and sleep.
Dogging the Watch. Normally a watch is 4 hours long, which creates 6 watches per day, which is an even number of watches. With an even number of watches, a watch section would be standing the same watches every day, such as the mid-watch. To eliminate this, the 1600-2000 watch is split into two 2-hour watches to create a 7th watch; this process is called dogging the watch. Each of these two split watches is called a dogwatch. Another reason for splitting this watch is that both watches will be able to eat the evening meal during normal meal hours.
The term dogwatch is said to derive from Sirius, the "Dog Star” because Sirius is the first star to come into view on the first dog watch. However, the time of the rising of Sirius varies with the time of year, so for much of the year Sirus is below the horizon at sunset. Additionally, since the first dogwatch (1600–1800) is typically stood during daylight, the stars are not visible. Another derivation is that someone standing one of these 'half' watches was said to be “dodging the watch,” so the watch was named the “dodge watch,” which was shortened to dogwatch
Ship's Bell. The ship’s bell is used to regulate the watches. The strikes of the bell (known as a “bell”) to not indicate the number of the hour; instead, there are eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch. Bells are struck every half-hour, in pairs to make counting easier, with any odd bells at the end of the sequence. For example, one bell would be “ding,” two bells would be “ding-ding,” three bells would be “ding-ding…ding,” and so on until eight bells would be “ding-ding… ding-ding… ding-ding… ding-ding.” Eight bells would indicate the end of a four-hour cycle and a new cycle would begin.
Relieving the Watch. When relieving a watch, the new watch stander reports 15 minutes prior to the start of the next watch, reviews any information pertinent to the watch, receive a briefing about current and expected events of the watch, and then relieves the watch. Watch changes are entered into the watch log.
Watch Log. Most watches have a log book in which entries are made about things that occur during the watch. Entries include, changes of the watch, rounds being completed, course changes, gauge readings, etc.
Uniform for Watch. The uniform required for a watch may vary from the working uniform to the full-dress uniform. In any case, the watch stander should report to the watch properly groomed and wearing a clean, complete uniform that is in good repair.