A dog watch is a work shift, also known as a "watch", in a maritime watch system that is half the length of a standard watch period. This is typically formed by splitting a single four-hour watch period between 16:00 and 20:00 (4 pm and 8 pm) to form two two-hour dog watches, with the "first" dog watch from 16:00 to 18:00 (4 pm to 6 pm) and the "second" or "last" dog watch from 18:00 to 20:00 (6 pm to 8 pm).
The reason behind this watch's existence is that, in order for the crew to rotate through all the watches, it was necessary to split one of the watches in half, to create an odd number of watches in a ship's day. This allowed the sailors to stand different watches instead of one team being forced to stand the mid-watch every night. The choice of time also allows both watches, if there are only two, to eat an evening meal at about the traditional time.
The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word 'dogwatch' is a direct translation from either German or Dutch of a similar term. It originally referred to the night-watch on ships — that is, the time when (on land) all but the dog were asleep. The name is also said to be derived from Sirius, the "Dog Star", on the claim that Sirius was the first star that can be seen at night. An alternative folk etymology is that the name arose because someone tasked with one of these 'half' watches was said to be 'dodging the watch', taking or standing the 'dodge watch'. This became shortened to 'dog watch'. Another variation is that those sleeping get only 'dog sleep' in this watch. Stephen Maturin of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series retells the 19th century humourist Theodore Hook's pun that the dog watch is so-named because it is "cur-tailed" ("curtailed", i.e. shortened). Dogging in seaman's terms means securing, such as dogging a hatch. It's called a dog watch because each watch is dogged , or secured prematurely to allow for meal times.
In the Chelsea Clock Company's (makers of Ship's Bell clocks) website explanation it says that ..."the Evening Watch is periodically divided into two watches. These are called Dog Watches because they "dog" the watch schedule for all divisions ahead by one watch period". It can be surmised that this may mean an action similar to the "feed dogs" on a sewing machine, although obviously the use of the term predates the use in the sewing machine.
- Tony Gray. "Workshop Hints: Ships Bells". The British Horological Institute. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
- "dogwatch, n.", Oxford English Dictionary.
- "Maths & DT". HMS-Victory.com. Archived from the original on 17 July 2008. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- Smyth, William (1867). The Sailor's Word-Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, including Some More Especially Military and Scientific, but Useful to Seamen; as well as Archaisms of Early Voyagers, etc. London: Blackie & Son.
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