Recent travels during the COVID-19 Pandemic have made sailors more aware of the Q Flag. This International symbol of “health” is the flag that alerts officials that your vessel is “healthy and requests free practique.” This permission allows the captain to enter port with the assurance that the vessel is free of contagion. The “Q” flag is flown to alert authorities to your arrival and it is flown until the vessel is cleared, after which the crew is free to go ashore.
Once a vessel has cleared, the “Q” flag is taken down and a small version of the flag of the host nation is flown at the starboard spreader as a courtesy flag. A courtesy flag should only be flown in the waters of the host country and no flag should be flown above the courtesy flag.
Just like a ship, a yacht flies her colors or national ensign to announce her country of documentation. This flag is flown at the stern either on a flagstaff or on a backstay.
International Nautical Code/Signal Flags
International Code of Signals as adopted by the Fourth Assembly of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization in 1965.
“The purpose of the International Code of Signals is to provide ways and means of communication in situations related essentially to safety of navigation and persons, especially when language difficulties arise. In the preparation of the Code, account was taken of the fact that wide application of radiotelephony and radiotelegraphy can provide simple and effective means of communication in plain language whenever language difficulties do not exist.”
Nautical flags and their meaning are valuable in emergency conditions when communication systems are unavailable or language barriers persist. One flag signals are urgent or common signals.