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Nautical Flag and Its Alphabet Explained

Published on
July 7, 2022 at 9:08:49 AM PDT July 7, 2022 at 9:08:49 AM PDTth, July 7, 2022 at 9:08:49 AM PDT

Why is it important to learn the nautical flag alphabet? Well, despite all technology, the nautical flag or maritime signal flag conveys the right message even in the most turbulent of times.

To the unskilled eye, nautical flags seem very colorful and vibrant with their colors and fun shapes, but why don’t we learn a thing or two about nautical flag alphabet and see what these nautical signal flags are all about?

Flags Match the Alphabet

How many letters are there in the alphabet? Twenty-six. How many nautical flags are there? Twenty-six as well.

Each of the standard letters of the alphabet is represented with a flag and letter backed by navy signals.

A: Alpha – A diver is down, keep clear of me

B: Bravo – dangerous load on the boat

C: Charlie – yes (positive, affirmative)

D: Delta – stay away from me because I have difficulty managing the vessel


E: Echo – changing the course to starboard


F: Foxtrot – Disability, and asking for communication


G: Golf – I need a pilot


H: Hotel – there is a pilot on the vessel


I: India – I am changing my course to sail to the port


J: Juliet – the vessel is on fire. Everybody keep clear


K: Kilo – I need to communicate with you


L: Lima – stop your vessel immediately. I have an important piece of information. Come Within Hail or Follow Me (Sailing Regatta)


M: Mike – my vessel is stopped. I can’t make way through the water; Mark Missing (Sailing Regatta)


N: November – no (negation, negative); Abandonment and Re-sail (Sailing Regatta)


O: Oscar – there’s a man overboard


P: Papa – The meaning of this one depends on whether you are in port, in which case it’s a notification/warning the ship is about to sail, and all personnel should come back. However, at sea it can mean that a fishing vessel transfers the message: “My nets have come fast upon an obstruction.”


Q: Quebec – I want free pratique


R: Romeo – reverse course


S: Sierra – the engines are going backward


T: Tango – in regular international communication, it means “keep clear” or it is a sign that the vessel is engaged in trawling. In the navy, though, it translates as: Do not pass ahead of me.


U: Uniform – this is a warning saying: you are going into danger


V: Victor – I need help


W: Whiskey – I need medical help


X: X-ray – stop what you are planning to do


Y: Yankee – I am dragging an anchor/ I am carrying mail


Z: Zulu – I need a tug


Besides these 26 square flags, the communication can be aided with 10 numbered pendants, an answering pendant, and three substitutes.


True Colors


 While nautical flags seem beyond colorful, there aren’t that many colors in the spectrum:












Colors such as grey, purple, and the rest are not chosen for the obvious reason: they aren’t easily noticeable, especially from a great distance. On the other hand, the above colors stand out even with the naked eye, not to mention binoculars.


A flag can have several colors on itself, or it can be just one solid color.


How Many Nautical Flags Is Enough?


Sometimes, just one code flag is enough to convey the message. Individual flags can sometimes be enough to ensure that international code is being maintained on open waters. 


On the other hand, seeing two or even three flags is usually an alarming signal, i.e. an incident is happening,was and the vessel needs some sort of assistance. For instance, there could be Oscar flag (man overboard) and Whiskey (need medical assistance). Therefore, two flags are normally a sign of distress and asking for maneuvering.


More flags can be used as well:

-Three flags signal — they can convey quite a lot, depending on the combination: relative bearings, points of the compass, time, and verbs. Even punctuation as well as general code and decode signals can be represented in this way.

-Four flags signal — they are not that urgent, i.e., they convey geographical signals, the name of the vessel, bearings, and so on.

-Five flags signal — that’s how many flags you need to describe the time and position.

-Six flags signal — they are even more detailed, sending the main cardinal directions in latitude and longitude.

-Seven flags signal — finally, when it comes to longitude signals with one hundred degrees, they can’t be defined better than with using seven flags.

What Messages Are Conveyed?

You may know the nautical alphabet by heart, yet you are bound to get confused from time to time due to the fact that some messages can be coded! In fact, the US Navy and NATO are known to communicate with its fellowships by using the signals they have created on their own.

 However, if you wish to practice regular communication, you can take an online quiz or go and watch a sailing race. The contestants, i.e., ships must change their pennants as they alter the course.

Explore our Nautical Signal Code Flag Set Today!

Carrot-Top offers a variety of high-quality flags and flag sets. Check out our Nautical Signal Code Flags Set today!

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