Nautical Alphabet Flags

Mar 9th, 2017

Nautical flags are used to communicate with other vessels. The practice originated as a means for communication among ships during military engagements. The communication system evolved into an international signaling system that is used by military and non-military vessels.


There are 26 flags representing the alphabet, 10 representing numbers, 1 answering and 3 substitutes. The flags are variations of the colors black, blue, red, white and yellow. Following are the 25 alphabet flags and what they mean. Note that R:Romeo is not included since it does not have a meaning by itself:


Affirmative - C: Charlie



This flag means yes, affirmative. It can be used to answer a question from another vessel.


Altering Course to Port – I: India



Vessel is altering its course to port side.


Altering Course to Starboard – E: Echo



Vessel is altering its course to the starboard side.


Anchor Dragging – Y: Yankee




The vessel is dragging its anchor


Assistance – V: Victor



The vessel is letting others know that it needs assistance.


Assistance – Medical – W:Whiskey



The vessel is indicating that someone onboard requires medical assistance.


Communication Requested – K:Kilo



Vessel wants a nearby vessel to communicate with it.


Danger – U: Uniform



This flag is used to notify another vessel that it is heading into danger.


Dangerous Cargo – B: Bravo



Vessel has dangerous cargo onboard.


Disabled – F: Foxtrot



Vessel is disabled and needs someone to communicate with them.


Diver Down – A: Alpha



This flag means a diver is in the water and other vessels should keep clear of the area.


Engines going astern – S: Sierra



Vessel is indicating that its engines are going astern. This occurs when engine reverses thrust to slow it down.


Enter Port – Q: Quebec



Vessel is requesting admission to the port, and captain is promising that there are no contagious diseases onboard.


Fire – J: Juliet



Vessel is on fire and is carrying dangerous cargo. Other vessels should keep clear.


Keep Clear – D: Delta and T: Tango




The vessel is having trouble maneuvering – other vessels should keep clear.


Man Overboard – O: Oscar



Man is overboard and is in need of rescue. The person is not necessarily a man, but the “Man Overboard” distress signal has been used for centuries. Historically, it was used to indicate that someone manning the ship had fallen overboard.


No – N: November



Negative, or no.


Pilot – G: Golf



The vessel needs a pilot.


Pilot Onboard – H: Hotel



The vessel has a pilot onboard.


Setting Sail – P: Papa



Communicates that everyone should report onboard. The vessel is getting ready to sail.


Stop – L: Lima



Demand for another vessel to stop. When used while vessel is in harbor, it means that it is under quarantine.


Stop Intentions – X: X-Ray



Demanding that another vessel stop its intentions and watch for additional signals.


Stopped – M: Mike



Vessel is stopped in the water.


Tug Needed – Z: Zulu



Vessel needs a tug


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