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.
This signalling system was drafted in 1855 and published in 1857, and
was gradually adopted by most seafaring countries. It was revised in 1932.
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.
Special meanings of individual flags
a (alpha) = Diver Down; Keep Clear
b (bravo) = Dangerous Cargo
c (charlie) = Yes
d (delta) = Keep Clear
e (echo) = Altering Course to Starboard
f (foxtrot) = Disabled
g (golf) = Want a Pilot
h (hotel) = Pilot on Board
i (india) = Altering Course to Port
j (juliet) = On Fire; Keep Clear
k (kilo) = Desire to Communicate
l (lima) = Stop Instantly
m (mike) = I Am Stopped
n (november) = No
o (oscar) = Man Overboard
p (papa) = About to Sail
q (quebec) = I Request
r (romeo) = (The way is off my ship. You may feel your way past me)
s (sierra) = Engines Going Astern
t (tango) = Keep Clear of Me
u (uniform) = You are Standing into Danger
v (victor) = Require Assistance
w (whiskey) = Require Medical Assistance
x (x-ray) = Stop Your Intention
y (yankee) = Am Dragging Anchor
z (zulu) = Require a Tug
England expects that every man will do his duty.
- this was the signal sent by Admiral Horatio Nelson on 21 October
1805 from his flagship HMS Victory just before the Battle of Trafalgar began.
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