Servicing The Compass

The Best Sea Prank I Ever Witnessed


By  Bill Hayden





Back in the Fall of 1970 I had just arrived aboard CGC Cook Inlet (WHEC-384) that was homeported out of Portland, Maine.  Having just arrived as a new graduate of Radioman School, I had heard many tales of pranks that would be pulled on the new guys as part of their indoctrination.  As such,  I was always on my guard expecting to be the source of enjoyment for somebody’s prank.


We had been underway for about two days on our way to Ocean Station Bravo when I witnessed one of the best pranks I ever encountered in my Coast Guard career.


One evening I noticed the Boatswain’s Mate of The Watch earnestly speaking with one of his brand new deckies that had arrived from boot camp only a few days before we sailed.  I moved closer to hear what was being said.   I heard the BMOW  bestowing a very important duty and responsibility upon the unsuspecting new sailor.  The BMOW went on to explain that the deckie was to report to the bridge every evening precisely at 1900 hours and perform this critical task.  The task went like this; He was to report to the OOD and request permission to “pressurize” the ship’s compass.  Upon receiving permission from the OOD he was to proceed to the ship’s magnetic compass and stand directly forward of the helmsman facing aft looking directly at the helmsman’s face.  He was advised that on top of the compass were the pressure equalization pump handles that slide down into the compass assembly (He didn’t realize they were the binnacle cover handles).   The unsuspecting deckie was then to raise the left handle first and then alternating with the right he would raise and lower the handles for five minutes believing that he was pressurizing the ship’s compass.  Of course he was told that if this task was not performed exactly at the same time each evening, the compass would lose calibration and the ship would drift off course and could be the cause a maritime disaster or worse yet…. We wouldn’t be able to find the “mail buoy.”


Well this good (but foolish) sailor performed his duty masterfully for four days until the helmsman couldn’t take it any longer and burst out laughing.  It was quite some time before the teasing  subsided but I assure you… This young man was not fooled again and as my memory serves me,  he took great relish in bestowing similar pranks upon future unsuspecting shipmates.


Bill Hayden is a retired CWO3(Comm)


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