Nautical Flags Alphabet

While someone not acquainted with maritime activity might think the colorful flags are simply decorative and traditional, the Nautical Flags Alphabet actually helps represent an important system of communication between sailors when at sea.  Maritime signal flags  – or international code flags  – are used to signal brief messages  either between two ships, or between ship and shore. Each flag can be used individually or in combination with other flags for additional messages.

The system includes 26 square flags which represent the letters of the alphabet, ten numeral pennants, one answering pennant, and three substituters or repeaters. Red, blue, yellow, black, and white are the only colors that can be readily discerned at sea. Further, the colors can only be used in specific combinations in order to guarantee optimal clarity from a distance; flags are either solid colored, or use the combinations of red and white, yellow and blue, blue and white, or black and white.

The number of flags used also determines the nature of the message. The most urgent signals are sent via a single flag, while distress and maneuvering signals are most often communicated with a combination of two flags. General codes, such as points on the compass, relative bearings and standard times utilize three flag combinations; names of ships, geographic information, time and position and latitude/longitude bearings require the use of between four and seven flags.

Nautical Flags Alphabet:

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) = DisabledSearch Nautical Flags Alphabet

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

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

These are the basic communications, there are many more standard messages when combinations of flags are utilized. The system has been adopted by virtually all seafaring nations, and is the accepted international protocol while on the water. Those planning on being on the open sea should acquaint themselves with these meanings and keep a key available should they need to establish or receive communication with another ship.

Another important component of being out on the water is your Sign and Glide membership. Never leave the dock without having a back up plan – call Sign and Glide (877) 727-4543 – today for more information on how you can be assured that you are covered in the event of an unexpected emergency.