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The system of international maritime signal flags is a way of representing individual letters of the alphabet in signals to or from ships. It is a component of the International Code of Signals. Nautical signal flags can be used in various methods:

  • Each flag spells out a letter of an alphabetic message.
  • Individual signal flags have specific and standard meanings; 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, nautical signal 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".
  • Note: NATO uses an extra set of flags to communicate specific types of messages.

Letter

Flag

Meaning

 Purchase Flag with:

A

Alfa

 Alfa

I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed.

With three numerals, azimuth or bearing.

B

Bravo

 Bravo I am taking in, or discharging, or carrying dangerous goods. (Originally used by the Royal Navy specifically for military explosives.)

C

Charlie

Charlie

Affirmative.

With three numerals, course.

D

Delta

Delta

Keep clear of me; I am maneuvering with difficulty.

With two, four, or six numerals, date.

E

Echo

Echo I am altering my course to starboard.

F

Foxtrot

Foxtrot I am disabled; communicate with me.

G

Golf

Golf

I require a pilot. When made by fishing vessels operating in close proximity on the fishing grounds it means: "I am hauling nets".

With four or five numerals, longitude. (The last two numerals denote minutes and the rest degrees.)

H

Hotel

Hotel I have a pilot on board.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

India

India I am altering my course to port.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

J

Juliet

Juliet I am on fire and have dangerous cargo on board: keep well clear of me, or I am leaking dangerous cargo.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

K

Kilo

Kilo

I wish to communicate with you.

With one numeral, I wish to communicate with you by; 1) Morse signalling by hand-flags or arms; 2) Loud hailer (megaphone); 3) Morse signalling lamp; 4) Sound signals.

  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

L

Lima

Lima

In harbor: The ship is under Quarantine. At sea: You should stop your vessel instantly.

With four numerals, latitude. (The first two denote degrees and the rest minutes.)

  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

M

Mike

Mike My vessel is stopped and making no way through the water.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

N

November

November Negative.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

O

Oscar

Oscar Man overboard (often attached to the man overboard pole on boats).
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

P

Papa

Papa The Blue Peter. In harbor: 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".
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

Q

Quebec

Quebec My vessel is "healthy" and I request free pratique.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

R

Romeo

Romeo

The way is off my ship.

With one or more numerals, distance in nautical miles.

  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

S

Sierra

Sierra I am operating astern propulsion. With one or more numerals, speed in knots.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

T

Tango

Tango

Keep clear of me; I am engaged in pair trawling.

With four numerals, local time. (The first two denote hours and the rest minutes.)

  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

U

Uniform

Uniform You are running into danger.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

V

Victor

 Victor

I require assistance.

With one or more numerals, speed in kilometers per hour.

  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

W

Whiskey

Whiskey I require medical assistance.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

X

Xray

Xray Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

Y

Yankee

 Yankee I am dragging my anchor.
  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

Z

Zulu

 Zulu

I require a tug. When made by fishing vessels operating in close proximity on the fishing grounds it means: "I am shooting nets".

With one or more numerals, time (UTC). (The first two denote hours and the rest minutes.) (Origin of the phrase 'Zulu Time'.)

  • Grommets
  • Rope and Snap Hook
  • Rope and Wood Toggle

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

Numbers

Type of flag 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
NATO flags zero one two three four five =six seven eight nine
Pennants zero one two three four five six seven eight nine

 

Other Flags

prompt subsitute one substitute two substitute three substitute four
Prompt First substitute Second substitute Third substitute Fourth substitute

 

Storm Signal Flags

hurricane gale
Hurricane Gale

 

NATO Signals

answer preparation question negation designation
Code/answer (ANS) Preparation (PREP) Question (INT) Negation (NEGAT) Designation (DESIG)
alter course turn screen speed station
Alter course (CORPEN) Turn (TURN) Screen (SCREEN) Speed (SPEED) Station (STATION)
port starboard formation division squadron
Port (PORT) Starboard (STBD) Formation (FORM) Division (DIV) Squadron (SQUAD)
group subdivision emergency
Group (FLOT) Subdivision (SUBDIV) Emergency (EMERG)

 

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

It uses material from the Wikipedia article "International Maritime Signal Flags".

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