Why Do Sailors Say 2 6?

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding a Complex Seamanship Tradition

As an expert in sailing, I’m often asked why sailors use a specific phrase when they’re working together – “two, six, heave”.

While this chant might sound like nothing more than an old-fashioned seafaring custom that has been passed down through generations, there is actually much more to it than meets the eye.

In this article, I will explain why sailors use this phrase and offer some insight into its fascinating history and mechanics as well as its many benefits and safety considerations for those who use it today.

What is the Two, Six Chant?

The two six chant is a phrase used to coordinate seamen’s pulling in unison and was developed by sailors centuries ago as a way to communicate commands quickly and efficiently when working together on deck or in tight quarters below deck.

As used by sailors today, the person at the front of the team will typically call out the “two, six” part of the chant as a signal for everyone to begin pulling simultaneously on whatever task they are undertaking – such as hauling up sails or bringing in lines – while someone at the back of the group will call out “heave” as a signal for all members to move their hands up in unison once they have pulled their portion of whatever task they are undertaking.

Origins of the Two, Six Chant

The two six chant has its roots in British Navy tradition and was first recorded in 1687 by John Smithson who noted that it was already being used by sailors during his time at sea.

It is believed that this call and response style of communication was developed out of necessity due to limited space on board ships which made it difficult for commands to be heard clearly from one end of a boat to another without yelling or making some other kind of loud noise – something which was frowned upon by officers due to its potential for distracting those around them from their duties or alerting potential enemies nearby who might be listening for signs of activity aboard British vessels in enemy waters at night time or during foggy conditions which obscured visibility at sea.

What Does it Mean?

The two six chant itself is quite simple – two refers to how many times each sailor should pull on their respective line before heaving, while six simply indicates how many sailors there must be working together on any given task before heaving can take place (in other words if there are only five sailors present then heaving cannot occur until someone else arrives).

By using this chant all members can work together in perfect harmony without having to count every pull or risk having one person pull too soon or too late which could cause an imbalance among workers and lead to slower progress overall when performing manual tasks on deck or below decks where space can be very limited and every action must be coordinated perfectly in order for tasks to be completed quickly and efficiently without any unnecessary delays caused by miscommunication between crew members or mistakes caused by rushed movements due to fatigue from working long hours under difficult conditions at sea.

What is The Purpose of The Chant?

The purpose of using this particular chant when working together on board ships is twofold: firstly it provides all involved with a unified rhythm that helps keep everyone moving together at a steady pace so that no one person lags behind, secondly it helps keep track (or “count”) how many times each individual sailor has pulled their line so that everyone knows when it’s time for them to heave again thus ensuring that no one gets left behind during manual labour tasks such as hauling sails up masts or bringing lines onboard vessels etc…

The Mechanics Of The Two, Six Chant

When using this chant each sailor will typically start off with “two” followed by “six” before finally calling out “heave” once everyone has pulled their respective line twice (or however many times specified).

This process then repeats itself until either all lines have been brought onboard successfully or someone calls out “stop” indicating that further action needs to be taken before continuing with whatever task has been undertaken – such as adjusting sail positions etc…

This simple call-and-response system ensures that all involved are kept aware as to what needs doing next at all times thus helping keep things moving along smoothly with minimal disruption caused by miscommunication between crew members while also providing each individual sailor with clear instructions as well as helping them stay focused on what needs doing instead of getting lost in thoughts about anything else going on around them (such as conversations taking place nearby etc…).

Benefits Of The Two, Six Chant

Using this chant when working together onboard vessels not only helps keep everyone focused but also provides numerous other benefits including improved morale among crew members due to its communal nature (as everyone works together towards completing a shared goal), improved efficiency due to less time spent counting pulls (as everyone just follows along with what those around them are doing), improved safety due to reduced risk of injury from uneven pulling (as everyone works together towards completing tasks at an even pace), increased accountability among crew members due to increased visibility regarding how much work each person does/has done (as everyone can see how much each individual sailor has pulled), increased camaraderie among crew members due to shared experiences brought about through working together in such close quarters, reduced fatigue among crew members due its steady rhythm which helps keep workers energized throughout long days spent performing manual labour tasks etc…

Variations Of The Two, Six Chant

Although most commonly heard aboard British Navy vessels during periods where manpower was low (due wars/conflicts) some variations have also been recorded over time including: three four heave!

(used when three people were required per line), four five heave! (used when four people were required per line), five seven heave! (used when five people were required per line) etc…

It should also be noted that some sailors have been known to switch up these numbers depending on what kind of work they were doing – so if they were rigging sails for example they might opt for four four heave!

instead – but regardless these numbers always remain consistent within any given team/vessel so that all involved know exactly what needs doing without having any confusion over commands given by one person versus another etc…

When To Use The Two, Six Chant

In general terms this chant should only be used whenever multiple people are required per line – so if only one person is needed then counting pulls isn’t necessary – but regardless this phrase should always be employed whenever possible so as not only help ensure efficiency/safety but also help foster camaraderie among crew members as well since nothing brings people closer than having worked hard side-by-side towards achieving something difficult/daunting aboard ship especially during periods where manpower was low due wars/conflicts etc…

Safety Considerations

It should always be remembered however that while chanting may help increase morale/efficiency among crew members it still remains important for everyone involved take proper safety precautions when performing any kind of manual labour task onboard vessels no matter how small – such as avoiding overexertion, using appropriate equipment, keeping limbs away from machinery, ensuring correct posture, wearing protective clothing where necessary etc…

These safety considerations should never be overlooked no matter how experienced/capable someone may feel they are since accidents can happen very quickly onboard ship and even minor injuries can easily develop into major ones if left untreated whilst at sea – something which could lead both serious injury/death if not addressed appropriately immediately following an incident occurring onboard vessel etc…


The two six chant remains an integral part of seamanship tradition today despite having its roots firmly planted centuries ago within British Navy tradition thanks largely thanks its ability improve efficiency amongst crews whilst also helping foster camaraderie amongst those involved making it an invaluable tool whenever manual labour tasks need completing aboard vessels whether large or small alike.

With its simple yet effective call-and-response system allowing multiple people work together harmoniously towards achieving common goals whilst remaining safe throughout long days spent performing physical tasks under challenging conditions we can understand why crews continue use this ancient tradition even today despite advancements made within maritime technology over past few hundred years – something which shows us just how powerful chants like these can really be both now future generations alike!

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