Catch up on your nautical flag history and learn about everything from where the flags came from to what the colors and flag combinations mean.
Ships all around the world follow a certain flag signal code called the International Maritime Flag System. This flag system has been in use for over 150 years by sailors in order to communicate between water and shore.
It was in 1857 that the International Code of Signals was officially published by the British Board of Trade. The purpose of the code was to establish a set of rules for maritime communication that everyone would understand. Originally the code included 18 signal flags that could be combined to signal about 17,000 various messages.
Nautical flag history includes two important years of change. In 1932 the flag signal code was expanded by adding six more flags for different languages that included French and Spanish. Then in 1969, even more flags were added to accommodate Russian and Greek languages. Today, this flag system of communication also is used to dress ships to more festive occasions and certain ceremonies.
What exactly does each flag look like and represent? The nautical flags are composed of various geometric shapes and colors. Nautical flag sets include 26 square flags for the letters of the alphabet and 10 numbered pendants. The five different colors were chosen since they were the easiest to see while at sea – red, white, black, yellow and blue.
Each combination of flags, from one flag to six, has a different meaning. One-flag signals are either urgent or common. Two-flag signals usually show distress and maneuvering of the ship. Three-flag signals show compass points, bearings, times or general code. Four-flag signals communicate geography and ship names. Five-flags together means time and position. Finally, six-flags signal specific latitudes and longitudes.
Two-flag signals and fairly common and here are some examples:
AC – I’m abandoning my vessel
AN – I need a doctor
DV – I’m drifting
EF – SOS, Mayday
GW – Man overboard
PP – Keep clear of me
Check out our collection of nautical flags and see which flags work best for your needs.
Credit: Ezine Articles