Can You Name These Navy Signal Flags?

By: Staff Author
Image: Wiki Commons via David Cannings

About This Quiz

In our modern world of instant communication worldwide, where a funny cat video or gif can be bounced off a satellite and onto the other side of the world in a scant few seconds, does our navy really need ... flags? Aren't they just a misbegotten relic of a time before telecommunications? Are they just another example of how the military is full of hidebound traditionalists who need to adapt to the ever-changing real world and drop their aged, useless traditions to which they cling so dearly?


NO! The Navy Signal Flag system serves a valuable purpose, even today! First of all, they relay information instantaneously to everyone within viewing range. You don't have to filter the flag through a system of notifications or find a message in your ever-burgeoning email folder, you just know, immediately, what the flag is meant to tell you. Correspondingly, it's no surprise that many of the messages transmitted by these signal flags are important information that is meant to be relayed with all haste to anyone nearby. It's no good to tweet "man-overboard"! These flags are able to transmit need-to-know information at the speed of light, allowing all ships in range to immediately act as necessary to suit the situation.


But you already know  that, right? You're a Navy Signals expert, that's why you're here! We have in this quiz several dozen of the Navy's Signal Flags for you to apply your expertise towards. Now raise the anchor and set sail, you've got a mighty challenge ahead!

The signal flag for hotel means that the ship flying it already has a pilot on board. That way command does't waste time sending a redundant pilot their way.

Golf, on the other hand, is a way for a ship to communicate that it lacks a pilot. A more important signal than the above, simply because it is an issue that must be remedied ASAP!

Flags can also be used in place of numerals, which can be useful both in of itself and as a component in sending coded information. In this case, this means seven.

The flag Echo simply communicates that the ship is turning to starboard. When electronic communication is unavailable, this information is very important for neighboring vessels!

Foxtrot normally means that the ship is disabled, but for carriers it means that flight operations are ongoing. This is a very important distinction to keep in mind!

The flag for Papa acts as a means to summon personnel back to the ship, and a warning that it is soon going to leave port!

This flag stands for Victor, and its purpose is simple: It is a cry for help. Technically speaking it translates to: "I require assistance".

This is the flag for Juliet, and it has a particularly important albeit narrow use. It says "I am on fire, and I have dangerous cargo. Stay away!" It is understandable why a country's navy would have a need for such a flag!

The flag for Fourth Substitute could mean that it is a substitute for a number four flag, but it also can mean that the officer whose flag flies on this vessel is not currently aboard.

The flag called Romeo simply means that they are "Preparing to replenish (At sea). Ready duty ship (in port)." It is a simple request for supplies.

This flag simply means "Pennant Zero," which in this case is used in combination for various naval codes. These might vary based on the week or even the day, depending on the Navy's state of alert.

The Signal Flag "Mike" refers to the carrying vessel being stopped. It means literally "My vessel is stopped, making no way." That could be due to external environmental factors, but could also be a choice of the captain's.

The flag for November translates to a simple "No, or negative". Consequently, it is used only in answer to the flags of another vessel.

The flag for Kilo means, quite simply "I want to communicate with you". So if you're browsing your online dating profile and this flag pops up, consider it an attempt at an introduction from one of our navy's finest vessels.

This flag, which is a simple "Delta", means that the boat flying it is having trouble maneuvering, and spotting vessels should steer clear. A quite sensible precaution to take, given the dangers of collision when out on the ocean.

The flag for Zero's purpose is literally the numeral zero. It is used as a component in codes, and has no meaning on its own.

This flag simply indicates "Pennant Five", which is a component in an overall coded message.

The flag called "Third Substitute" can indeed be a substitute flag, but its more important message is "Absence of commanding officer, in port." Knowing such info at a glance can be very helpful.

The flag above stands for "Charlie," which in this instance is a simple reply in the affirmative. Obviously, not much use unless a conversation is going on!

Oscar's message indicates the classic seaborne emergency: "Man Overboard!" If you see this, start scanning the waves, as every moment counts!

The signal flag that stands for Alfa means "I have a diver down, keep well clear and at a slow speed." This has obvious importance- given the limitations of human maneuvering under water, those boats better stay very slow indeed!

The flag for the number "Nine" is only unusual in its pronunciation: it is spoken NINE-ER. You may have seen this on television or in movies!

This signal flag simply translates to "Pennant Four."

This signal flag translates as "Uniform," and it is very important that one recognize it, as it means "You are heading into danger!" Whether combat, a storm, or Scylla and Charybdis, it's time to turn around!

This signal flag translates to "Four", and as such is used in tandem with other flags to send information and codes. The more you know!

This flag, meaning Code or Answer, either refers to the following flags representing a code from the international code of signals, or alternately that an answer to the requested query is forthcoming.

The above signal flag, Bravo, is a flag with an important purpose: It communicates to the onlooker that the vessel is carrying, taking in or discharging dangerous cargo. Beware!

The above flag stands for Lima, a flag with a serious purpose: It is requesting (or ordering!) the ship viewing it to stop immediately. It includes no mention of purpose, so it could be for many potential reasons.

The flag shown here translates to "Whiskey," and it is a very important tool to have in a ship's arsenal, as it is an immediate request for medical assistance. Is there a doctor on board?

This flag translates as "First Substitute," which either means that the vessel lacks a flag officer or unit commander while in port, or that the flag is simply acting as a substitute for the first flag in that particular hoist.

The flag flown here translates as "Xray," and it is an immediate order to another vessel to cease its current action. After this flag is flown, another one will follow with new instructions.

The flag shown flying here, "Zulu" has a short and sweet meaning: "I need a tug." It does not give a reason why, which makes sense- restore mobility now, explain later!

This signal flag simply means "Pennant Six," and is used to mean the numeral of the same name.

Pennant Eight is just what it sounds- a pennant simply meaning the number eight. Useful in communicating a number of things, as well as speaking in code.

This flag means the number three. Not exciting in itself, but somewhat more than two. Less than four, however.

The Sierra flag shown here can either mean that you are conducting a flag hoist drill, or that you are proceeding astern, depending on the context, and you better be sure which is which!

This signal flag stands for "India," which can have two significantly different meanings: either that the flag-bearing vessel is coming alongside, or that they are directing their course to port.

This signal flag, which means "Tango," is surprisingly narrow in purpose: it only means "Do Not Pass Ahead of Me." No, that is not an invitation to play chicken!

The above flag stands for "Quebec" and befitting a province with a complex history, it is a complex flag. On the one hand it can mean "Boat recall; all boats return to ship," but it can also mean "Ship meets health regs; request clearance into port."

This flag has the meaning "Yankee," and like most of the alphabet flags it has dual meanings: either "Ship has visual communications duty" or "I am dragging anchor." If the latter, watch out!

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