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International Code Flags or Signaling Flags
|More than you ever wanted to know:
Although you may never see them displayed except at fleet parades, around naval installations, and areas with heavy international shipping traffic, International code flags are used to signal between two ships or between ship and shore. Also called signaling flags, they are a set of flags of different colors, shapes and markings which used singly or in combination have different meanings. The flags include 26 square flags which depict the letters of the alphabet, ten numeral pendants, one answering pendant, and three substituters or repeaters.
Only a few colors can be readily distinguished at sea. These are: red, blue, yellow, black, and white; and these cannot be mixed indiscriminately. You will notice, for clarity, the flags shown are either red and white, yellow and blue, blue and white, or black and white; besides plain red, white, and blue.
One-flag signals are urgent or very common signals (see meanings below). Two-flag signals are mostly distress and maneuvering signals. Three-flag signals are for points of the compass, relative bearings, standard times, verbs, punctuation, also general code and decode signals. Four-flags are used for geographical signals, names of ships, bearings, etc. Five-flag signals are those relating to time and position. Six-flag signals are used when necessary to indicate north or south or east or west in latitude and longitude signals. Seven-flags are for longitude signals containing more than one hundred degrees.
Some Useful Two Letter Signals:
Don’t fly a foreign courtesy ensign after you have returned to U.S. waters. It may show that you have "been there," but it is not proper flag etiquette.
Customs regulations and clearance procedures and costs may differ from one foreign country to another. Be sure and check your cruising guide for the proper procedures or try inquiring locally by radio prior to entering a foreign port. Although I have found that most custom officials speak some English or have access to someone who does, don’t forget that you are in their country and you should be prepared to communicate with them in their language.
So, now that you know all about signaling flags, get them out and wave them high.