Driving the Boat / What's a 'Bell Boat'?
The fireboat Harvey is an engine room operated boat, one of the last left in this country. The common term for this arrangement is to call her a "bell boat". The Pilot at the helm, rings down his instructions using the engine order telegraphs. He can indicate both speed and direction ahead or astern direction for each of Harvey's two propeller shafts.
Down below, at the Engineer's station these instructions are displayed on two very similar telegraphs.
The engineer then sets the propulsion motor controllers to the desired speed and direction. Once set, he rings up confirmation that the orders were complied with. This confirmation is then displayed on the pilothouse telegraph.
The engineer's station also has gauges and indicators showing the status of all Harvey's systems. Before telegraphs were used, manual bell pulls transmitted coded signals between the two men operating the boat. On more modern fireboats, the Pilot has direct control of propulsion.