Flag Signals

This section is aimed at the recognition and meanings of flag signals. You may already know that flag ALFA means ‘I have a diver down. Keep well clear at slow speed’.

Each signal flag, if flown on its own, has a definite meaning (except ROMEO which has no meaning as a flag signal). These are called the ‘single-letter signals’. The single-letter signal codes may be made by any other method of signalling, including Morse Code by light or sound.

When made by sound, it must be remembered that some of them are used as whistle blasts in Rules 34 and 35. (One Rule relates to clear visibility and the other to restricted visibility—can you remember which?). These include signal letters B, C, D, E, H, I, M, R, S, T and Numeral 5.

Note that although code flag VICTOR means ‘I require assistance’, it is not a signal of distress. Remember too, that letters ‘K’ and ‘S’ have special meanings when sent by light or sound if they are being used to guide small boats to a safe landing place—(‘K’ indicates a good landing, ‘S’ indicates dangerous).

The flag signals set out below also show the Morse Code for each flag. To the right of each flag is the phonetic letter and meaning - when you see a signal flag, you should try to think of it in these terms. For example if you see a white flag with a red diagonal cross, you should think ‘VICTOR - I require assistance’.

For most certificates of competency it is not necessary to learn Morse Code. It is included here simply for your information. As we mentioned above, the flag signals may be sent by any method of signalling, and some of them correspond to whistle signals in the Rules. For example, letter ‘H’ has four dots in Morse Code. This corresponds to four short blasts on the whistle. It comes from Rule 35 and it identifies a vessel on pilot duty in fog. The meaning of signal letter HOTEL is ‘I have a pilot on board’ (H for ‘Have’).

Firstly try to remember the colour pattern of each flag. The following ideas may help.

A and B are the two ‘pointy’ ones (correct term, burgees).

Note: When describing flag colours in words, the part of the flag nearest the halyard is called the ‘hoist’ and the part furthest from the flag pole is called the ‘fly’. So flag ALFA is white at the hoist and blue at the fly. Confusingly, the term for a group of flags hoisted from a single halyard to form a signal, is also called a ‘hoist’.

The numeral flags are all ‘pendants’ or ‘pennants’. Pendant or pennant is simply a nautical term for a tapered flag.

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