Flag alphabet

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The flag alphabet is used in shipping to exchange messages between ships optically by means of signal flags . This message is called a signal (technical term: "hot").

Among other things, there is the international and a German flag alphabet. With these flag alphabets, each letter of the Latin alphabet is signaled by a flag of different colors. There are also flags for signaling digits and special flags . Most flags in the flag alphabet have other special meanings, for example flag A of the international flag alphabet signals divers below . This flag is therefore called the diver's flag and is also used outside of shipping. Today, if flags are used at all (and a radio is not used instead), this additional meaning is used almost exclusively. Spelling with these flags is not common and the assignment of letters to the flags is therefore only used for identification.

In contrast to the flag alphabet, with the winker alphabet (semaphore) a letter is signaled by the position of two flags.

The flag shelf on the bridge of the Jeremiah O'Brien


Two ships with signal flags as flag decorations
Danube (A 69) shows signal flags.
Left: FHG. Right: 3-5

In 1817, Frederick Marryat of the British Royal Navy introduced a system of flag signals, which was initially used to signal and identify merchant ships over long distances at sea ( Marryat signal code ). The system, which was expanded several times, including for the purposes of the Royal Navy, was renamed The Universal Code of Signals for the Mercantile Marine of All Nations in 1854 and was in use until around 1890, mostly on British and US ships that were used by German ships this system sometimes.

Another flag alphabet was designed by the Board of Trade in 1855 , published in 1857, and gradually adopted by many seafaring nations. Germany adopted the system in 1870. With the edition of the International Signal Book of 1901, this was first introduced in a generally applicable manner. Since then it has been revised several times and with the advent of modern communication methods since the founding of the IMO in 1959, it has been streamlined again and again.

Flag alphabets were initially regarded as military secrets and were primarily used to be able to transmit one's own orders to friendly warships in the course of a sea ​​battle at sea without these orders being read by the enemy. Since merchant ships are generally only receiving orders, there were two signal books in many nations, one for the merchant navy, which was also available to the navy, and one exclusively for the navy.

The principle has remained the same as it has been since 1901. The number of pennants and stander has meanwhile increased. There are 26 letter pennants, ten number pennants, one signal pennant and four auxiliary posts, as well as two track and one target pennants. In general, up to four different letters are set at the same time and read from top to bottom, which allows a total of 475,254 different statements to be formulated. The use of the auxiliary stand and the signal pennant provide further options. The lane and target flags are only important for races ( regattas ).

Real literacy, i.e. the spelling of words, is only permitted in exceptional cases. One such example is transferring names to convey the spelling of a crew member. For this purpose, the lettering is transmitted after an “I am starting to spell” signal and ended with an “I have spelled it out” signal. This technique is contained in the first volume of the international signaling book , which deals with the flag, Morse, and winker signals. Volume two (of two) of the International Signal Book contains the radio book .

Signal table

The following table shows the international signal flag alphabet with the meaning of the hoisting of individual pennants or stander.

  1. Column: letter
  2. Column: Letter in the international spelling table ( ICAO alphabet), as used worldwide in marine radio ( voice radio ) according to the IMO
  3. Column: International signal flag
  4. Column: Morse Code
  5. Column: Meaning as a single flag signal
  6. Column: Indicates whether the corresponding Morse code as a sound signal corresponds to the single flag signal. There are sound signals corresponding to Morse code in the collision avoidance rules and in the order of maritime waterways that have a different meaning than the corresponding single flag signal .
  7. Column: Significance for regatta events in accordance with the International Competition Sailing Regulations 2017-2020 - Orders / signals from the race committee to the participating boats (additional or different signals can be announced in the sailing instructions for the respective regatta)
Radiotelephony Signal flag Morse code Single flag signal sound Regatta sign
A. alpha
ICS Alpha.svg
- “I have divers down below; keep yourself clear of me when driving slowly. " only under "AP" or "N"
B. Bravo
ICS Bravo.svg
- · · · "I load / unload / transport dangerous goods." Protest flag
C. Charlie
ICS Charlie.svg
- · - · "Yes."
With a triangular cut-out (C double stand) 1946–49 Identification mark of German ships
the position of the next mark has been changed
D. delta
ICS Delta.svg
- · · “Keep yourself free from me; I am not able to maneuver. " Yes
E. echo
ICS Echo.svg
· "I'm changing my course to starboard." Yes
F. Foxtrot
ICS Foxtrot.svg
· · - · “I am unable to maneuver; get in touch with me. "
G golf
ICS Golf.svg
- - · "I need a pilot."
H hotel
ICS Hotel.svg
· · · · "I have a pilot on board." only under "AP" or "N"
I. India
ICS India.svg
· · "I'm changing my course to port." Yes Start tightening: Rule 30.1 is in effect
J Juliett
ICS Juliet.svg
- - - “Keep yourself clear of me. I have a fire in the ship and dangerous cargo on board. "
K kilo
ICS Kilo.svg
- · - "I want to get in touch with you."
L. Lima
ICS Lima.svg
· - · · "Bring your vehicle to a standstill immediately!" (E.g. request from the water police ) Yes On land: notices to participants were posted;
at sea: come within shouting distance or follow
M. Mike
ICS Mike.svg
- - “My machine has stopped; I'm not going to drive through the water. " This object replaces a missing mark
N November
ICS November.svg
- · "No." Abort the race,
alone: Abort the race , back to the start;
via "A": abort, no further races today;
via "H": abort, further signals ashore
O Oscar
ICS Oscar.svg
- - - "Man overboard!" Allows pumping, rocking, and drifting that are normally not permitted (rule 42). [Only when Appendix P is used.]
P father
ICS Papa.svg
· - - · This flag (also known as Blue Peter ) is set to indicate that a ship is about to leave the port within the next 24 hours. It is a sign for the crew on shore leave to come on board and that local suppliers should present outstanding invoices. / "My nets got stuck in an obstacle" (at sea). Preparation signal
Q Quebec
ICS Quebec.svg
- - · - "Everything healthy on board, I ask for a free traffic permit".
The signal flag "Q" is used as a customs stand , but is also called the quarantine flag . Together with the 1st aid stand it means “I need health clearance”, earlier it means more drastically: “My ship is suspected of being infected”.
R. Romeo
ICS Romeo.svg
· - · Has no meaning as a single flag. The display of a navigable passage on the opposite course was of historical importance. If “O” was shown before: Pumping, rocking and drifting are prohibited from here.
S. Sierra
ICS Sierra.svg
· · · "My engine is running backwards." (This is given especially when the ship is still moving forward) Yes Track shortening
T tango
ICS Tango.svg
- “Keep yourself free from me; I'm at team fishing. "
U uniform
ICS Uniform.svg
· · - "You are in danger." Start tightening: Rule 30.3 is in effect
V Victor
ICS Victor.svg
· · · - "I need help."
W. whiskey
ICS Whiskey.svg
- - "I need medical help."
X Xray
ICS X-ray.svg
- · · - “Cancel your maneuver. Pay attention to my signals. " Individual recall
Y Yankee
ICS Yankee.svg
- · - - "I'm drifting at anchor." Put on life jackets!
Z Zulu
ICS Zulu.svg
- - · · "I need a tug." / "I set out nets (fishermen)." Start tightening: Rule 30.2 is in effect
0 Nadazero
ICS Pennant Zero.svg
- - - - -
1 Unaone
ICS Pennant One.svg
- - - - Is also set for solo sailors . only under "AP"
2 Bissotwo
ICS Pennant Two.svg
· · - - - only under "AP"
3 Terrathree
ICS Pennant Three.svg
· · · - - only under "AP"
4th Kartefour
ICS Pennant Four.svg
· · · · - only under "AP"
5 Pantafive
ICS Pennant Five.svg
· · · · · only under "AP"
6th Soxisix
ICS Pennant Six.svg
- · · · · only under "AP"
7th Setteseven
ICS Pennant Seven.svg
- - · · · only under "AP"
8th Oktoeight
ICS Pennant Eight.svg
- - - · · only under "AP"
9 Novenins
ICS Pennant Niner.svg
- - - - · only under "AP"
ICS Answer.svg
Signal book and answer pennant Start delay;

about 1-9: around 1-9 hours

via H: more signals ashore.

About A: No more racing today.

1st substitute
ICS Repeat One.svg
First auxiliary stand (repeat first character at this point) General recall
2nd substitute
ICS Repeat Two.svg
Second auxiliary stand (repeat second character at this point)
3rd substitutes
ICS Repeat Three.svg
Third auxiliary stand ( repeat third character at this point)
( inch stand )
4th substitute
ICS Repeat Four.svg
Fourth auxiliary stand (repeat the fourth character at this point, is not part of the international signal flag alphabet)
The mark remains on the starboard side
Usually: the mark remains on the starboard side (not stipulated in the racing rules)
The mark remains on the port side
This is the oldest, internationally valid flag and has been in use for centuries as the so-called "quarantine flag". It was taken over by pirates in the 16th century , before the pirates switched to the (often black) skull flag in the 18th century . Because of the history with the pirates, in order to avoid confusion, the "quarantine flag" got the swallowtail and is now known as the "Bravo (danger) flag". In addition, the former "quarantine flag" is repeated in the "Whiskey flag (I need a doctor)". The red rectangle only became the port flag with the introduction of color assignments for the direction of travel of watercraft in the 19th century. usually: mark remains on port side (not stipulated in the racing rules)
Target mark.svg
Checkered flag
Note: The flags are shown here against a gray background for better contrast.
N (November)


C (Charlie)

The flag signal "NC"
(the flag N is hoisted over C)

One set of these signal flags is called a "Stell". The signal flags can not only be set individually, but in combinations of several. They are placed one below the other and read from top to bottom. For example, “U”, “W” means “Good Luck” or “Gute Reise”. This is used at the Willkomm-Höft ship greeting system in Wedel near Hamburg . Such combinations were - with the help of secret code books - used especially by warships in associations to communicate with one another. In contrast to radio, this type of communication cannot be intercepted or tracked by enemy submarines.

Signal flags used by the military

In military use, some signal flags that deviate from the international signal flag alphabet (ICS) are defined. The NATO Allied marine tactical signal and maneuvering book describes deviating number flags, in the Russian Navy both numbers and letters differ from the ICS.

ICS signal flag NATO Russian Navy Morse code
ICS Pennant Zero.svg
ICS Zero.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 0.svg
- - - - -
ICS Pennant One.svg
ICS One.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 1.svg
- - - -
ICS Pennant Two.svg
ICS Two.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 2.svg
· · - - -
ICS Pennant Three.svg
ICS Three.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 3.svg
· · · - -
ICS Pennant Four.svg
ICS Four.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 4.svg
· · · · -
ICS Pennant Five.svg
ICS Five.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 5.svg
· · · · ·
ICS Pennant Six.svg
ICS Six.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 6.svg
- · · · ·
ICS Pennant Seven.svg
ICS Seven.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 7.svg
- - · · ·
ICS Pennant Eight.svg
ICS Eight.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 8.svg
- - - · ·
ICS Pennant Niner.svg
ICS Niner.svg
Russian Navy Code of Signals 9.svg
- - - - ·

The multi-flag signal "NC" is an internationally valid distress signal . Other multi-flag signals are rarely used today. They were initially replaced with the Q codes of Morse code and later by radiotelephony.

Colors of the signal flags

BW color designation RAL color RAL auxiliary designation Color sample
Medium yellow RAL 1021 Rapeseed yellow
red RAL 3000 Fire red
Dark blue RAL 5013 Cobalt blue
green RAL 6001 Emerald green
White RAL 9001 Creamy white
black RAL 9005 Jet black

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Borys: Coding and Cryptology . Facets of application-oriented mathematics in the educational process, 1st edition, Vieweg + Teubner Research, Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-8348-1706-8 , pp. 225–226.
  2. a b c Signal flags / flag alphabet - basics. Retrieved May 25, 2011 .
  3. a b PUB. 102: International Code of Signals. (pdf) National Imagery and Mapping Agency , 2003, accessed February 10, 2020 .
  4. Signal Flags / Flag Alphabet - The signal flag alphabet. Retrieved May 25, 2011 .
  5. Racing Rules of Sailing 2017–2020. (pdf) International Sailing Federation , June 2016, accessed on January 29, 2020 (English).
  6. Joachim Schult: Segler-Lexikon . 13th edition. Delius Klasing Verlag , Bielefeld 2008, ISBN 978-3-7688-1041-8 , keywords quarantine, quarantine flag .
  7. a b NATO Standard ATP-01, VOLUME II Allied marine tactical Signal and Maneuvering Book. (pdf) NATO , January 2016, accessed February 10, 2020 .
  8. a b Флаги военно-морского свода сигналов. Retrieved February 10, 2020 (Russian).
  9. Federal Office for Defense Technology and Procurement ( Memento from September 26, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 155 kB).