International Maritime Signal Flags



First drafted in 1855, this system was first published as an international and a British volume in 1857 and gradually adopted by most seafaring nations. The 1932 revision was published as visual and radiotelegraphy volumes in the English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Norwegian languages.

These flags are used at sea for communication between ships. They can spell out short messages and individual flags and various combinations of flags also have special meanings. On ceremonial and festive occasions the signal flags are used to 'dress' (decorate) ships.

Only a few colors can be readily distinguished at sea. These are: red, blue, yellow, black, and white; and these cannot be mixed indiscriminately. You will notice, for clarity, the flags shown are either red and white, yellow and blue, blue and white, or black and white; besides plain red, white, and blue.



Usage:
• One-flag signals are urgent or very common signals (see meanings below)
• Two-flag signals are mostly distress and maneuvering signals
• Three-flag signals are for points of the compass, relative bearings, standard times, verbs, punctuation, also general code and decode signals
• Four-flags are used for geographical signals, names of ships, bearings, etc
• Five-flag signals are those relating to time and position
• Six-flag signals are used when necessary to indicate north or south or east or west in latitude and longitude signals
• Seven-flags are for longitude signals containing more than one hundred degrees.

Letters:


A
Alfa - Diver below (when stationary); Keep clear
B
Bravo - I am taking on, discharging, or carrying dangerous cargo

C
Charlie - "Yes" or "affirmative"

D
Delta - I am maneuvering with difficulty; keep clear

E
Echo - I am altering my course to starboard

F
Foxtrot - I am disabled, communicate with me

G
Golf - I require a pilot

H
Hotel - I have a pilot on board

I
India - I am altering my course to port

J
Juliet - I am on fire and have dangerous cargo; keep clear

K
Kilo - I wish to communicate with you

L
Lima - You should stop your vessel immediately

M
Mike - My vessel is stopped (Not international but commonly used: Doctor on board)

N
November - "No" or "negative"

O
Oscar - Man overboard

P
Papa - All personnel return to ship; about to sail - the Blue Peter

Q
Quebec - Ship meets health regs; request clearance into port

R
Romeo - None (previous meaning: The way is off my ship. You may feel your way past me)

S
Sierra - I am moving astern

T
Tango - Keep clear (Not international but commonly used: Request for club launch)

U
Uniform - You are standing into danger

V
Victor - I require assistance (not distress)

W
Whiskey - I require medical assistance

X
Xray - Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals

Y
Yankee - I am dragging anchor

Z
Zulu - I require a tug

Numbers:


0
Numeral zero

1
Numeral one

2
Numeral two

3
Numeral three

4
Numeral four 

5
Numeral five

6
Numeral six

7
Numeral seven

8
Numeral eight

9
Numeral nine

Other flags:

substitutes


Sub 1
Substitute for the first flag in this hoist

Sub 2
Substitute for the second flag in this hoist

Sub 3
Substitute for the third flag in this hoist

Sub 4
Substitute for the forth flag in this hoist

allied signals:


ANS
Code/answer

PREP
Preparative

INT
Question

NEGAT
Negation

DESIG
Designation

CORPEN
Course Pennant

TURN
Turn


SCREEN
Screen

SPEED
Speed

STATION
Station

PORT
Port

STBD
Starboard

FORM
Formation

DIV
Division

SQUAD
Squadron

FLOT
Group

SUBDIV
Subdivision

EMERG
Emergency




Some Useful Two Letter Signals:

AC
I am abandoning my vessel.
LO
I am not in my correct position: used by a light vessel.
RU Keep clear of me; I am maneuvering with difficulty.
AN I need a doctor.
NC
I am in distress and require immediate assistance.
SO
You should stop your vessel instantly.
BR I require a helicopter.
PD Your navigation lights are not visible.
UM The Harbour is closed to traffic.
CD I require immediate assistancePermission to enter Harbour is urgently requested.
PP Keep well clear of me.
UP Permission to enter Harbour is urgently requested. I have an emergency.
DV I am drifting.
QD I am going ahead.
YU I am going to communicate with your station by means of the International code of signals.
EF SOS/MAYDAY has been canceled.
QT I am going astern.
ZD1 Please report me to the Coast Guard, New York.
FA Will you give me my position?I require health clearance.
QQ I require health clearance.
ZD2 Please report me to Lloyds, London.
GW Man overboard. Please take action to pick him up.
QU Anchoring is prohibited.
ZL Your signal has been received but not understood.
JL You are running the risk of going aground.
QX I request permission to anchor.