What is a Ship’s Telegraph?

We’re often asked in our shop in Fowey about telegraphs: what they are are and how they work. So let’s clear that little mystery up…

Ship’s telegraphs, more properly known as EOTs (engine order telegraphs) are communications devices used on ships and submarines. They are also often known colloquially as ‘Chadburns’ after the firm of Chadburn and Co. who took out the first patent on such machines in 1870.

As well as being used on ships, Chadburn telegraphs were employed in mines, construction, railway stations and the like. On ships, they allow the pilot on the bridge to communicate his orders to the engineers in the engine room. Most ships telegraphs have the following dial indicators:

Full Ahead, Slow Ahead, Dead Slow Ahead, Stop, Dead Slow Astern, Slow Astern, Half Astern and Full Astern.

Other indicators would include “Stand By” and “Finished with Engine”.

A ship with one engine has a telegraph with a single handle. Two-engine ships usually have a handle on the port side and another on the starboard side of the telegraph, controlling the engines on the corresponding sides.

Nowadays, on most modern ships, the main control handle on the bridge acts as a remote controlled throttle, with no engine room personnel directly involved. Merchant ships however are still required to provide an EOT to allow orders to be transmitted to the local control position in the engine room, in the event that the remote control system should fail.

Ships’ telegraphs also happen to be quite beautiful objects, visions in aluminium or brass. We have an aluminium 1980s Nippon Zosen Kikai Company Ltd of Tokyo telegraph for sale on the site, as well as this distinctly more art deco version. Plus, in our shop but not on the website, we have two gorgeous vintage brass telegraphs, one a Chadburn, the other a Bergen. You can spot the Bergen here. Contact us with all enquiries.

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