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Meanings of Code Flags

When learning the flag meanings see the flag, and think of its phonetic letter followed by the meaning.

For example, when you see the red diamond of flag ‘F’, you should immediately think ‘FOXTROT—I am disabled; communicate with me’.

See the Flag Table page and learn the flags meanings. 

As a matter of interest, if a single flag is followed by numerals, the flag has a different meaning. By way of example ‘C125’ means ‘Course 125º’, ‘S10’ means ‘Speed 10 kts’ and so on. There are 11 such combinations, but you do not have to remember them for this course.

The International Code of Signals also contains a large number of 2-letter signals and 3-letter signals. The 2-letter signals have a wide variety of meanings and a few of the more important ones are listed below, to be remembered. The 3-letter signals are not a part of this course, but by way of example, those beginning with M have Medical meanings.

Most vessels only have one set of signal flags. If a signal group needs to use the same letter or numeral more than once, (such as MAA – I request urgent medical advice), the repeated letter is indicated by using one of the ‘substitute’ flags. Substitute flags are triangular to avoid confusion with the numeral pendants.

The 1st sub means the same as the first flag in the group. The 2nd sub means the same as the second flag in the group, and the 3rd sub means the same as the 3rd flag in the group. In this way 4-letter group such as MMMM (eg ships call sign) can be signalled with one set of flags. In the example given above (MAA) flags M, A and 2nd sub would be hoisted. MMMM would be hoisted as M, 1st Sub, 2nd Sub, 3rd Sub.

The last flag in the series printed on p.6 is the Answering Pendant. This is either flown ‘at the hoist’, ie as high as possible, or ‘at the dip’, ie about halfway up the halyard. When the ‘receiving’ ship has understood the signal, she briefly dips the Answering Pendant to indicate that she is ready for another one.

The Answering Pendant is also known as the Code Flag, as it is flown by warships when they wish to communicate with a merchant vessel using the International Code of Signals. When the merchant vessel is ready to receive the first signal, she flies the Answering Pendant at the dip, as above, then displays it at the hoist until ready for the next one.

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