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The set of signal flags on the bridge of the Liberty ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien

The system of international maritime signal flags is one system of flag signals representing individual letters of the alphabet in signals to or from ships. It is a component of the International Code of Signals (INTERCO).[1]

Overview

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

  • each flag spells an alphabetic message, letter by letter.
  • individual flags have specific and standard meanings[2]; for example, diving support vessels raise the "A flag" indicating their inability to move from their current location because they have a diver underwater.
  • 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 were banned. 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" (C-Doppelstander), "D-Pennant", and "E-Pennant".

Letter flags (with ICS meaning)

* ^  N and C together (No and Yes) is used as a distress signal.

** Also signallable on a ship's whistle using Morse code. See International Code of Signals.

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

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 Marine Signal Flags
  2. AB Nordbok. "The Lore of Ships", page 138. New York: Crescent Books, 1975.

External links

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