Support our mission

Q: I know that Zulu Time, which the military uses, is the same as Greenwich Mean Time. But why’s it called Zulu Time? What’s up with that?

A: Zulu Time has its roots in something called “Z Time.” Back in the 18th Century, a famous American sea captain named Nathaniel Bowditch put together the “American Practical Navigator,” considered the bible of navigation. In that book, he developed a system in which sailors could use “local time” wherever they were on the high seas.

Bowditch took the 24 hours in a day, and divided the Earth’s 360 degree circumference into 15 degree increments. Each 15 degree change in longitude would mean an hour’s worth of time change.

Bowditch then designated his newly-created time zones with the letters of the alphabet, moving east from Greenwich toward the International Date Line. Now, some of the mathematically inclined among you will say there are 24 times zones and 26 letters in the alphabet. You’re right. For whatever reason, Bowditch skipped “J” and used two letters to designate the International Date Line. Greenwich was designated Z, thus “Z Time.”

Now, once you use the NATO phonetic alphabet and substitute “Zulu” for “Z,” there you have it.

Got a question about goings-on in the Mideast? E-mail Stripes at:

Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up