International maritime signal flags

Summary

Two sailing ships dressed overall with their signal flags
Tender Donau (A 69) (in German) with signal flags hoisted.
Starboard halyard: F-H-G.
Port halyard: 3-5

International maritime signal flags are various flags used to communicate with ships. The principal system of flags and associated codes is the International Code of Signals.[1] Various navies have flag systems with additional flags and codes, and other flags are used in special uses, or have historical significance.[2]

There are various methods by which the flags can be used as signals:

  • A series of flags can spell out a message, each flag representing a letter.
  • Individual flags have specific and standard meanings;[3] for example, diving support vessels raise the "A" flag indicating their inability to move from their current location because they have a diver underwater and to warn other vessels to keep clear to avoid endangering the diver(s) with their propellers.
  • One or more flags form a code word whose meaning can be looked up in a code book held by both parties. An example is the Popham numeric code used at the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • In yacht racing and dinghy racing, flags have other meanings; for example, the P flag is used as the "preparatory" flag to indicate an imminent start, and the S flag means "shortened course" (for more details see Race signals).

NATO uses the same flags, with a few unique to warships, alone or in short sets to communicate various unclassified messages. The NATO usage generally differs from the international meanings, and therefore warships will fly the Code/answer flag above the signal to indicate it should be read using the international meaning.

During the Allied occupations of Axis countries after World War II, use and display of those nations' national flags was banned.[citation needed] In order to comply with the international legal requirement that a ship identify its registry by displaying the appropriate national ensign, swallow-tailed versions of the C, D, and E signal flags were designated as, respectively, provisional German, Okinawan, and Japanese civil ensigns. Being swallowtails, they are commonly referred to as the "C-pennant" (German: C-Doppelstander), "D-pennant", and "E-pennant".[citation needed]

Letter flags (with ICS meaning)

Letter flags and ICS meanings
Letter/
phonetic
name
Flag Blazon ICS meaning as single flag Meaning when used with numeric complements
A
Alfa
ICS Alpha.svg Swallowtailed, per pale argent and azure "I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed." Azimuth or bearing
B
Bravo
ICS Bravo.svg Swallowtailed, gules "I am taking in or discharging or carrying dangerous goods." (Originally used by the Royal Navy specifically for military explosives.)
C
Charlie
ICS Charlie.svg Azure, a fess gules fimbriated argent "Affirmative."[a][b] Course in degrees magnetic
D
Delta
ICS Delta.svg Or, a Spanish fess azure "Keep clear of me; I am manoeuvering with difficulty."[b] Date
E
Echo
ICS Echo.svg Per fess azure and gules "I am altering my course to starboard."[b]
F
Foxtrot
ICS Foxtrot.svg Argent, a lozenge throughout gules "I am disabled; communicate with me."[c]
G
Golf
ICS Golf.svg Paly of six or and azure "I require a pilot."
By fishing vessels near fishing grounds: "I am hauling nets."
Longitude (The first 2 or 3 digits denote degrees; the last 2 denote minutes.)
H
Hotel
ICS Hotel.svg Per pale argent and gules "I have a pilot on board."[b]
I
India
ICS India.svg Or, a pellet "I am altering my course to port."[b]
J
Juliett
ICS Juliet.svg Azure, a fess argent "I am on fire and have dangerous cargo on board: keep well clear of me."
or
"I am leaking dangerous cargo."
K
Kilo
ICS Kilo.svg Per pale or and azure "I wish to communicate with you." "I wish to communicate with you by...":
1) Morse signaling by hand-flags or arms;
2) Loud hailer (megaphone);
3) Morse signaling lamp;
4) Sound signals.
L
Lima
ICS Lima.svg Quarterly or and sable "You should stop your vessel instantly." Latitude (the first 2 digits denote degrees; the last 2 denote minutes.)
M
Mike
ICS Mike.svg Azure, a saltire argent "My vessel is stopped and making no way through the water."[b]
N
November
ICS November.svg Chequy of sixteen azure and argent "Negative."[a]
O
Oscar
ICS Oscar.svg Per bend gules and or "Man overboard."[b] (often attached to the man overboard pole on boats).
With a sinister hoist, the semaphore flag.
P
Papa
ICS Papa.svg Azure, an inescutcheon argent The blue Peter.
In harbour: All persons should report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea.
At sea: It may be used by fishing vessels to mean: "My nets have come fast upon an obstruction."
Q
Quebec
ICS Quebec.svg Or "My vessel is 'healthy' and I request free pratique."
R
Romeo
ICS Romeo.svg Gules, a cross or No ICS meaning as single flag.

Prior to 1969: "The way is off my ship; you may feel your way past me."

Distance (range) in nautical miles.
S
Sierra
ICS Sierra.svg Argent, an inescutcheon azure "I am operating astern propulsion."[b] Speed (velocity) in knots
T
Tango
ICS Tango.svg Tierced in pale gules, argent and azure "Keep clear of me."[b]
Fishing boats: "Keep clear of me; I am engaged in pair trawling."
Local time. (The first 2 digits denote hours; the last 2 denote minutes.)
U
Uniform
ICS Uniform.svg Quarterly gules and argent "You are running into danger."[d]
V
Victor
ICS Victor.svg Argent, a saltire gules "I require assistance." Speed in kilometres per hour.
W
Whiskey
ICS Whiskey.svg Azure, an inescutcheon gules fimbriated argent "I require medical assistance."
X
Xray
ICS X-ray.svg Argent, a cross azure "Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals."
Y
Yankee
ICS Yankee.svg Bendy sinister of ten or and gules "I am dragging my anchor."
Z
Zulu
ICS Zulu.svg Per saltire or, sable, azure and gules "I require a tug."
By fishing vessels near fishing grounds: "I am shooting nets."[e]
Time (UTC). (The first 2 digits denote hours; the last 2 denote minutes.)

Notes

  1. ^ a b N and C together ("no" and "yes") is used as a distress signal.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Also signallable on a ship's whistle using Morse code. See International Code of Signals.
  3. ^ Historically, in a CAM ship during the World War II, Foxtrot was used to warn about launching the interceptor aircraft from the deck catapult.
  4. ^ In Japan, this flag is now also used to indicate a tsunami warning, although the ICS recommends the flag combination "ND" for such a warning.
  5. ^ The Z flag was also famously hoisted by Admiral Heihachiro Togo at the 1905 Battle of Tsushima as the Japanese fleet prepared to engage the Russian fleet. In Japanese coding at the time, the flag meant, "The Empire's fate depends on the result of this battle, let every man do his utmost duty."

Number flags

NATO number flags
Number NATO flag ICS flag Blazons
0
Zero
ICS Zero.svg ICS Pennant Zero.svg NATO: Argent, five crosses hummetty azure in saltire
ICS: Or, a pale gules
1
One
ICS One.svg ICS Pennant One.svg NATO: Gules, a fess or
ICS: Argent, a torteau
2
Two
ICS Two.svg ICS Pennant Two.svg NATO: Or, a fess gules
ICS: Azure, a plate
3
Three
ICS Three.svg ICS Pennant Three.svg NATO: Azure, a fess gules
ICS: Tierced in pale gules, argent and azure
4
Four
ICS Four.svg ICS Pennant Four.svg NATO: Gules, a saltire argent
ICS: Gules, a cross of Saint Philip argent
5
Five
ICS Five.svg ICS Pennant Five.svg NATO: Or, a saltire azure
ICS: Per pale or and azure
6
Six
ICS Six.svg ICS Pennant Six.svg NATO: Bendy sinister of seven argent and azure
ICS: Per fess sable and argent
7
Seven
ICS Seven.svg ICS Pennant Seven.svg NATO: Gules, a pale argent
ICS: Per fess or and gules
8
Eight
ICS Eight.svg ICS Pennant Eight.svg NATO: Or, a pale azure
ICS: Argent, a cross of Saint Philip gules
9
Nine
ICS Niner.svg ICS Pennant Niner.svg NATO: Azure, a pale argent
ICS: Quarterly argent, sable, gules and or

Substitute

Substitute or repeater flags allow messages with duplicate characters to be signaled without the need for multiple sets of flags.

The four NATO substitute flags are as follows:

ICS Repeat One.svg ICS Repeat Two.svg ICS Repeat Three.svg ICS Repeat Four.svg
First substitute Second substitute Third substitute Fourth substitute

The International Code of Signals includes only the first three of these substitute flags. To illustrate their use, here are some messages and the way they would be encoded:

"N" ICS November.svg
"O" ICS Oscar.svg
"NO" ICS November.svg ICS Oscar.svg
"NON" ICS November.svg ICS Oscar.svg ICS Repeat One.svg
"NOO" ICS November.svg ICS Oscar.svg ICS Repeat Two.svg
"NOON" ICS November.svg ICS Oscar.svg ICS Repeat Two.svg ICS Repeat One.svg
"NONO" ICS November.svg ICS Oscar.svg ICS Repeat One.svg ICS Repeat Two.svg
"NONON" ICS November.svg ICS Oscar.svg ICS Repeat One.svg ICS Repeat Two.svg ICS Repeat Three.svg
"NONNN" ICS November.svg ICS Oscar.svg ICS Repeat One.svg ICS Repeat Three.svg ICS Repeat Four.svg

See also

References

  1. ^ International Code of Signals, 2005 ed. (IMO IA994E), IMO – International Maritime Organization, 2005, ISBN 978-92-801-4198-6;International Code of Signals for Visual, Sound, and Radio Communications, United States Edition, 1969 (Revised 2003) (PDF), 1969, archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-03-20.
  2. ^ United States Power Squadrons Flag and Etiquette Committee Signal Flags Archived 2013-11-04 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ AB Nordbok. "The Lore of Ships", page 138. New York: Crescent Books, 1975.

External links

  • "How Ships Talk With Flags", October 1944, Popular Science
  • John Savard's flag page. Collection of different flag systems.
  • Freeware to aid memorizing the flags
  • La flag-alfabeto - signal flags used for the Esperanto language - the flags for the Esperanto letters with diacritical marks have the lighter color in the normal flag replaced with light green, which is not used in any normal flag.