Ships, Radio and Seaboard Life

29 Mar

One of the interesting phenomena that happened aboard Navy ships was a ritual we called the  winding of the clocks. Our ship was covered with Chelsea 8 day wind up clock movements. Generally they were of a black Bakelite body with a black face and white luminescent numerals and markings. These came in both 12 and 24 hour versions. Normally a low ranking seaman from the Navigation Department was assigned the task of walking around to those clocks in important spaces and insuring the clocks were on time and also wound. Important spaces might be the Captains Bridge, Admirals Bridge, CIC, Secondary Conn etc. etc. and he carried a shoulder strapped leather cased clock recently timed from the ships chronometer.  The radio space guys took care of their own clocks. The radio guys pulled time ticks from a local R-390 in radio central. The Navigation Dept was also responsible for keeping the ships chronometer wound and looked after.

One of the more famous types of Chelsea Clocks found aboard ship was the Radio Clock. It was famous because it had the Quiet Periods marked on the face. Two red wedges signifying when all the operators guarding 500 Khz stood by for emergency traffic at sea. In all of my years aboard aircraft carriers I cannot ever recall seeing a single radio clock. Every Radio Central I ever served in had loads of the large 12 inch or 8 inch black faced 24 hour Chelsea’s but nary a single face with Radio Quiet times marked.

After I got out of the Navy and retired from real world work I had some time and thought it would be fun to have a few of these old time clocks to keep wound. Besides they might look nice in the Radio Shack. I have found some and mounted same until I needed my wall space for other things and so they got relegated to the shelf. Besides a few were running incorrectly and some had stopped altogether.

During this past weekend I made an effort to find a clock repair man in our area and take a trial clock to see if he can manage a repair. If successful I will follow with others that need some looking after.  I have found a way to incorporate them into a shelf system and really want to have the clocks running again. I have two samples of ships radio clocks. One from a single hulled tanker that was scraped out due to oil spill potential which is a 12 hour model and a second off of a Chinese ship of some sort that runs well and is a 24 hour model.

Chinese Ship Radio Room Clock

If I manage to get my Russian Sub Clock repaired and the others cleaned and regulated I will post a picture of their new mounting. The rest of my Chelsea’s are of the US Navy variety in that they are all black faced clocks.

Thanks for reading my Blog. Best, Chas W5PG


Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Maritime, Radio


9 responses to “Ships, Radio and Seaboard Life

  1. Dick

    March 29, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    I once had an itch to get an original radio room clock. Holy cow, I could have purchased a brand new transceiver for the same amount ov money. And, I don’t mean an IC-718. Yikes!

    I have a small chrome 12-hour clock also with the red 500 kHz markings. Got it in a ship’s chandlery in Brittany France. Can’t compare at all with yours. Not close.

    Guard your’s well, worth real money.

    • w5pg

      March 29, 2010 at 10:07 pm

      Hey Dick. Glad you found one. The real wind up type Chelsea’s are becoming somewhat rare but still around if you hunt hard. Sometimes they show up on ebay and of course you take chances with that. I found both of mine on ebay about 6 years ago. Nowadays I think you can find a website for the shipping scrapers that operate out of Bangladesh or India. They sell ships chandler items over the internet and if you still want one and perhaps its there you can look. I dont have a URL handy but I have seen them recently. Within the last year or so. Be cautious of the Russian clocks sold on ebay. I found an original sub clock from the Ukraine and am happy with it but most of todays stuff is not up to that standard.

      Best, Chas

    • w5pg

      March 29, 2010 at 10:55 pm

      Hi again Dick; sorry to trouble you a second time. However while looking around the internet I found this windows desktop ships clock of the radio room variety. Looks nice and has real ships bells (that turn off) and sound nice. A gimmick but interesting if you like clocks.

      Best, Chas W5PG

  2. UU1CC Andy

    March 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Interesting article, Chas, as well as very nice Chinese clock photo.

    I’ve bought Soviet ship clock here in Kerch several years ago on flea market for $10 only – so cheap, eh? I love this clock, it is very precision (much more than my laptop for example 🙂 and works for two weeks without winding. Take a look on this photo (have no better at the moment)

    • w5pg

      March 30, 2010 at 1:04 am

      Thanks Andy and yes it is beautiful! You are a lucky man. There is something reassuring about the sound of a mechanical clock. They require looking after and a little time each week or two but the sound is very soothing to me. Combine the sound with the patina of an aged surface and the touch of brass and they almost give the impression that they live. I wish I had the mechanical skills and my eyesight back so I could learn to work on them. With only one working eye I think I would do more damage than repair.:( Best, Chas W5PG

      • UU1CC Andy

        March 30, 2010 at 1:35 am

        So sorry about your eye, Chas, I think it is a big challenge for you to write all these great articles, thank you so much!

        And about technical skills – yes, it is too complex for us to make a clock, but we still can to try to make a homebrew telegraph key, how do you think? Only two bearings (from PC hard drive for example), one lever, one knob, polished wooden base – and great masterpiece as a result. I’m a tempter 🙂

      • w5pg

        March 30, 2010 at 3:12 am

        I admired that piece on salvage disc drive parts and the end result; a new key! It was wonderful. I wish my workshop was so nice and turned out such great products. While I was looking at your clock pictures I took a peek at your other pictures and see the beautiful countryside that you live around. You are surrounded by beautiful homes pastures. Very pretty Andy. The submarine clock I purchased surplus form the Ukraine was a real submarine salvage clock. It has Cyrillic writing on its face and perhaps when I get it back from the repair shop maybe you can translate the writing for me? The clock is not very pretty but it has history! Old stuff is good! Best, Chas W5PG

      • UU1CC Andy

        March 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm

        Thank you for your kindly words about my toys, I’m so pleasured. Yes, I’ll translate those Russian writings for you, it should be very interesting to take a look at your clock after repair.

  3. Dick

    March 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for the follow-up info, Chas. I’ll give that site a viewing. Wasn’t aware of your eye loss. My vision is aging rapidly at 70, hi. I had to sell my wonderful FT-817 because reading that tiny display became too difficult. Now using analog OHR rigs. Can still make out their ball-park numbers ok, hi.

    Stay well

    72/73 Dick N2UGB


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