Since time immemorial “man the chains” has signified to the sailor either an approach to port or an imminent danger. Sounding on approaching land and entering an intended port was a matter of routine and was accepted with delight as a sign of the end of the voyage. Otherwise it was resorted to only when the vessel was in unexpectedly shoal waters. In either case, the lead was used to prevent possible grounding.
In Biblical times such a use of sounding is recorded. In 59 a.d. Paul, the Apostle, was being carried prisoner to Italy in a ship containing “two hundred three score and sixteen souls” and the ship was caught in a blow in the Ionian Sea. When, after days of storm, all the freight and spare gear had been jettisoned, and practically all hope had been abandoned, the seamen’s instinct told them they were approaching land in the night, and they
“ . . . sounded, and found it twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.
“And fearing lest we should have fallen upon the rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.”—(The Acts, 27th Chapter, 28-9.)