Ford’s Innovation Continues with Ship’s Whistle

Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kristopher Ruiz

Since the early days of ship navigation, communication has been of the utmost importance to Sailors. In the past, Sailors have used flags, cannons, lights, horns, and musical instruments to relay messages and aid in navigation. The time-honored tradition of the ship’s whistle still holds a place aboard the Navy’s newest and most technologically advanced warship.

“The purpose of the ship’s whistle is to notify other ships in the area of our intentions and warn other ships in the event of a problem,” said Lt. Patrick Miller, Ford’s assistant navigation officer. “We can communicate with other ships strictly by using our whistle.”

Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is outfitted with electric whistles rather than the steam whistles that are found on Nimitz-class carriers.  Ford’s whistles are constructed from two Kahlenberg KPH-130C electric piston horns that have an audibility range of two nautical miles and produce an audio level of 143 decibels at 1 meter.  That’s greater than the sound a jackhammer creates (115 decibels) and greater than a jet taking off (130 db).

“The first time I heard one whistle I didn’t think it was too loud, but when both whistles were tested it’s really loud. It’s like having an air horn right next to you,” said Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Alexander Rios, an engineering department Sailor, and one of the electricians that maintains the ship’s whistles.

The ship’s whistle system is comprised of multiple manual controls and one automatic selector that is programmed to automatically deliver maneuvering signals. There are two different types of whistle blasts: a “short” whistle blast, which is one second long, and a “prolonged” blast, which is four to six seconds long. Different combinations of blasts represent different messages. For example, one short blast means, “I am altering my course to starboard,” whereas two short blasts mean “I am altering my course to port.”

Whistles are also used to render “passing honors” between military ships and on occasions when ships, officials, or officers pass in boats or have passed. Passing honors between ships consists of sounding “attention” with the ship’s whistle and all persons on exposed decks rendering a hand salute.

Rios said there are many benefits of having an electric whistle compared to a steam whistle, but the biggest benefit is that it’s easier to troubleshoot and operate than the traditional steam whistle.

“Electrically wise it’s not a really complicated system and I see it as a simple system for us to use,” said Rios. “It’s just another example of the advanced technology that makes Ford a first in class ship.”


161216-N-XU135-002 NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Dec 16, 2016) – Quartermaster Lydia Pandorf, a navigation department Sailor assigned to Pre-commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), simulates using the ship’s whistle inside the bridge. Whistles are used to send messages to other vessels by using different lengths and variations. Ford is outfitted with electric whistles rather than steam whistles that are found on Nimitz-class carriers. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Ruiz)


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