Do you know your flags? Marine Signal Flags

Do you know your flags? Marine Signal Flags

by Veronica Jeans February 21, 2018 1 Comment

Nautical Flags and Their Meaning

Today these flags are used primarily to decorate ships during parade and presentation.

Before the advent of electronic communication, signal flags were used to communicate ship to ship. As well as semiphor, the flags below are the international standards for communicating ship to ship. We've included the message intended by a single flag.

International Code Flags




Alfa I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed.
Bravo I am taking in, discharging, or carrying dangerous cargo.
Charlie "Yes" or "affirmative"
Delta Keep Clear, maneuvering with difficulty.
Echo Altering course to starboard.
Foxtrot I am disabled; communicate with me.
On aircraft carriers: Flight Operations underway
Golf I require a pilot.
Hotel I have a pilot on board.
India I am directing my course to port. (International) Coming alongside. (Navy)
Juliet I am on fire and have dangerous cargo; keep clear.
Kilo I wish to communicate with you.
Lima You should stop your vessel immediately
Mike My vessel is stopped; making no way.
November No or negative.
Oscar Man overboard.
Papa All personnel return to ship; proceeding to sea (Inport).
Quebec Ship meets health regs; request clearance into port. (International) Boat recall; all boats return to ship. (Navy)
Romeo (International) Preparing to replenish (At sea). Ready duty ship (In port). (Navy)
Sierra Moving astern. (International) Conducting flag hoist drill. (Navy)
Tango Keep clear; engaged in trawling. (International) Do not pass ahead of me. (Navy)
Uniform You are running into danger.
Victor I require assistance.
Whiskey I require medical assistance.
Xray Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals.
Yankee I am dragging anchor. (International) Ship has visual communications duty. (Navy)
Zulu I require a tug.


1 - ONE (International) Numeral one. (Navy)
2 - TWO (International) Numeral two. (Navy)
3 - THREE (International) Numeral three. (Navy)
4 - FOUR (International) Numeral four. (Navy)
5 - FIVE (International) Numeral five. (Navy)
6 - SIX (International) Numeral six. (Navy)
7 - SEVEN (International) Numeral seven. (Navy)
8 - EIGHT (International) Numeral eight. (Navy)
9 - NINE (International) Numeral nine. (Navy)
0 - ZERO (International) Numeral zero. (Navy)

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Veronica Jeans
Veronica Jeans


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1 Response


March 03, 2017

I have seen these flags on ships before and assumed they were only for decoration, as you mentioned they mostly are today. I think that’s really interesting that each flag actually has a meaning. My uncle is a bit of a sailor and told me I could learn a bit about sailing this summer, so I’m really looking forward to learn all I can.

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