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Burghfield Sailing Club
Hangar Road
Berks RG7 4AP

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Racing - Flags

Racing - Flags

All those flags - What do they mean?

The flags that we fly on the committee boat to signal the start and end of the races etc. are more correctly known as the International Code Flags or International Signalling Flags. When used at Burghfield they have a specific meaning, as shown here. Lower down the page is their more general meaning!


Usage at Burghfield

B - Slow Handicap class flag. Raised 6 minutes before the start, and lowered at the start.
F - Fast Handicap class flag (boats of Portsmouth Yardstick 1000 and quicker). Raised 6 minutes before the start and lowered at the start.
G - Pursuit race class flag. Raised 6 minutes before the zero time start and lowered at the start. Normally, only Optimists see this flag - everyone else is still on the shore!
L - Change of course. Flown on the committee boat when the course has been changed compared to that on the club-house course-board. The new course is on numbers on the back of the committee boat.
Laser class flag. Raised 6 minutes before the start and lowered at the start.
O - Optimist class flag. Raised 6 minutes before the start and lowered at the start.
P - Preparatory flag. Raised 3 minutes before any start to indicate the racing rules now apply. It is lowered at the start, unless there is another start immedialtely aftwerwards - in which case it is left up.
R - RS 400 class flag. From 2008, this will be used as the Fast Asymmetric class flag. Raised 6 minutes before the start and lowered at the start. This is another flag that not many people see! We are not very good at getting to the start area on time.
S - Shorten course. Raised one minute before the finish of a puruit race, or at the finish line for other races.
T - Topper class flag. Raised 6 minutes before the start and lowered at the start.
W - Sailboard class flag. Raised 6 minutes before the start and lowered at the start.
X - Individual Recall. Raised at the start if one or more identifiable boats are over the line. Lowered once all boats have cleared the line, or when the Race Officer feels no more are going to return.
AP - Answering Pendant. Postponement. Raised when a race is delayed by 15 minutes or more. Lowered one minute before the next flag.
1st Sub - General Recall. Raised at a start if too many non-identifiable boat are over the line. The re-start is normally after all other starts.


The First International Code was drafted in 1855 by the British Board of Trade and was published by the Board in 1857. This covered two uses: the universal international signals and the British signals only. 18 separate signal flags could be used to convey over 70,000 possible messages.

After World War I, The International Radiotelegraph Conference in Washington considered proposals for a new revision of the Code. This was completed in 1930 and adopted by the International Radiotelegraph Conference held in Madrid in 1932.

After World War II, The Administrative Radio Conference of the International Telecommunication Union suggested in 1947 that the International Code of Signals should fall within the competence of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO), which became the later IMO. In January 1959, the First Assembly of IMCO decided that the Organization should assume all the functions then being performed by the Standing Committee of the International Code of Signals.

The Second Assembly of IMCO in 1961 (two assemblies in 3 years - they worked quickly in those days!) endorsed plans for a comprehensive review of the International Code of Signals to meet the updated requirements of mariners. The Code was revised in 1964 taking into account recommendations from the 1960 Conference on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the 1959 Administrative Radio Conference, in Geneva 1959. This new code was adopted in 1965.

International Meanings

The signalling flags have different colours, shapes and markings, and are used both singly and in combinations to produce different meanings. The flags include 26 square flags (letters of the alphabet), ten numeral pendants, one answering pendant, and three substituters or repeaters.

You might find that signalling D or even DV is especially useful at Burghfield!

Only a few colours can be easily distinguished at sea. These are: red, blue, yellow, black, and white; and these cannot be mixed indiscriminately. You will notice, for clarity, the flags shown are either red and white, yellow and blue, blue and white, or black and white; besides plain red, white, and blue.

  • One-flag signals are typically urgent or very common signals.
  • Two-flag signals are mostly distress and manoeuvring signals.
  • Three-flag signals are for points of the compass, relative bearings, standard times, verbs, punctuation, also general code and decode signals.
  • Four-flags are used for geographical signals, names of ships, bearings, etc.
  • Five-flag signals are those relating to time and position.
  • Six-flag signals are used when necessary to indicate north or south or east or west in latitude and longitude signals.
  • Seven-flags are for longitude signals containing more than one hundred degrees.



  • A - I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed.
  • B - I am taking in, or discharging, or carrying dangerous goods.
  • C - Affirmative.
  • D - Keep clear of me; I am manoeuvering with difficulty.
  • E - I am altering my course to starboard.
  • F - I am disabled; communicate with me.
  • G - I require a pilot. When made by fishing vessels operating in close proximity on the fishing grounds it means: "I am hauling nets".
  • H - I have a pilot on board.
  • I - I am altering my course to port.
  • J - I am on fire and have dangerous cargo on board: keep well clear of me, or I am leaking dangerous cargo.
  • K - I wish to communicate with you. With one numeral, I wish to communicate with you by; 1) Morse signalling by hand-flags or arms; 2) Loud hailer (megaphone); 3) Morse signalling lamp; 4) Sound signals.
  • L - In harbor: The ship is under Quarantine. At sea: You should stop your vessel instantly.
  • M - My vessel is stopped and making no way through the water.
  • N - Negative.
  • O - Man overboard. (often attached to the man overboard pole on boats). Also the flag used for semaphore.
  • P - The Blue Peter. 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".
  • Q - My vessel is healthy.
  • R - The way is off my ship.
  • S - I am operating astern propulsion. With one or more numerals, speed in knots.
  • T - Keep clear of me; I am engaged in pair trawling.
  • U - You are running into danger.
  • V - I require assistance.
  • W - I require medical assistance.
  • X - Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals.
  • Y - I am dragging my anchor.
  • Z - I require a tug. When made by fishing vessels operating in close proximity on the fishing grounds it means: "I am shooting nets".

N and C together (No and Yes) is used as a distress signal.

Some Useful Two Letter Signals

AC - I am abandoning my vessel.
AN - I need a doctor.
BR - I require a helicopter.
CD - I require immediate assistance.
DV - I am drifting.
EF - SOS/MAYDAY has been cancelled.
FA - Will you give me my position?
GW - Man overboard. Please take action to pick him up.
JL - You are running the risk of going aground.
LO - I am not in my correct position: used by a light vessel.
RU - Keep clear of me; I am manoeuvering with difficulty.
NC - I am in distress and require immediate assistance.
SO - You should stop your vessel instantly.
PD - Your navigation lights are not visible.
QD - I am going ahead.
QQ - I require health clearance.
QT - I am going astern.
QU - Anchoring is prohibited.
QX - I request permission to anchor.
UM - the Harbour is closed to traffic.
PP - Keep well clear of me.
UP - Permission to enter Harbour is urgently requested. I have an emergency.
YU - I am going to communicate with your station by means of the International code of signals.
ZD1 - Please report me to the Coast Guard, New York
ZD2 - Please report me to Lloyds, London.
ZL - Your signal has been received but not understood.

Created on 19/04/2007 08:46 PM by Chris Jordan
Updated on 07/12/2007 06:14 PM by Chris Jordan
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