What Flag Are You Flying?

By: Cruising Tips, Sailing Tips

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.

Flag Etiquette

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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.

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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.

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A - Alpha - I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed.
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B - Bravo - I am taking in, or discharging, or carrying dangerous goods.
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C - Charlie - Yes (affirmative or “The significance of the previous group should be read in the affirmative”).
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D - Delta - Keep clear of me; I am maneuvering with difficulty.
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E - Echo - I am altering my course to starboard.
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F - Foxtrot - I am disabled; communicate with me.
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G - Golf - I require a pilot. When made by fishing vessels operating in close proximity on the fishing grounds it means: “I am hauling nets”.
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H - Hotel - I have a pilot on board.
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I - India - I am altering my course to port.
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J - Juliet - I am on fire and have dangerous cargo on board: keep well clear of me, or I am leaking dangerous cargo.
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K - Kilo - I wish to communicate with you.
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L - Lima - You should stop your vessel instantly.
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M - Mike - My vessel is stopped and making no way through the water.
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N - November - No (negative or “The significance of the previous group should be read in the negative”). This signal may be given only visually or by sound. For voice or radio transmission, the signal should be “NO”.
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O - Oscar - Man overboard.
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P - Papa - In harbor.—All persons should report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea. At sea.—It may be used by fishing vessels to mean: “My nets have come fast upon an obstruction”. It may also be used as a sound to mean: “I require a pilot”.
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Q - Quebec - My vessel is “healthy” and I request free practique.
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R - Romeo - Reverse Course
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S - Sierra - I am operating astern propulsion.
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T - Tango - Keep clear of me; I am engaged in pair trawling.
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U - Uniform - You are running into danger.
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V - Victor - I require assistance.
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W - Whiskey - I require medical assistance.
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X - X Ray - Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals.
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Y - Yankee - I am dragging my anchor.
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Z - Zulu - I require a tug. When made by fishing vessels operating in close proximity on the fishing grounds it means: “I am shooting nets”.
 
The courtesy flag flown above the ASA flag.

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