Playing a boatswain's call involves holding the instrument correctly, learning to play the device's two notes and three tones, and learning specific commands. The boatswain's pipe or call, sometimes referred to as a bosun's pipe because of the way the word is pronounced, is a simple whistle which boatswains use on naval ships to pass along orders.
- Hold the boatswain's call correctly
Hold the boatswain's call with the thumb and index finger, with the instrument resting on the palm of your hand. Allow your other fingers to cup over the hole in the buoy, or rounded end of the boatswain's call, to make the appropriate sounds, but do not block the hole completely.
- Play the notes and tones
Blow into the boatswain's call to make a plain note. Blow unsteadily to produce a warble tone. Vibrate your tongue as if rolling the letter R to produce a trill. Make a low note by blowing straight into the call, or make a high note by cupping your fingers over the buoy.
- Learn the commands
Specific commands using a boatswain's call are standardized and consist of arrangements of the basic notes and tones of the device. Among these commands are: All Hands on Deck, Away Boats, Call the Boatswain's Mates, Carry On, General Call, Haul, Dinner or Supper, Pipe Down, Officer of the Day, Still and Sweepers.