NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF

V E X I L L O L O G Y

Online Edition



Book-Traders' Pennant

INTERNATIONAL SHIP CODE FLAGS

By Robert Lloyd Wheelock

The International Ship Code Flag System (ISCF) is a way for boaters and sailors to communicate with each other at sea. This system was introduced in 1857--as an amalgamation of previous codes, and started initially with only 18 flags. It has continually been improved, modified, and augmented ever since. It now has 52 flags.

The pennant code system is a collection of square flags and triangular pennants, using only 5 colors--red, yellow, blue, black, and white--which spell short words and coded messages; these are explained in the official ISCF Code Book--written in English and various other languages. Ships use rope hoists that boaters and sailors clip these code flags/pennants onto, and these are then raised up into position.

Messages using this system start with the code and answering pennant, which alerts ships that the ISCF system is in use. Combinations and groups of flags are used to send messages. For example: A ship that's about to sail flies P, while a ship having steering difficulties uses D, and O would be flown if a ship happens to lose someone overboard. Mutiny is forewarned with R+X, while P+Y+U translates into bon voyage! The book traders' pennant (the newest-introduced pennant) is flown to indicate that there is either a library on-ship, or there are books for trade. (The Flag Bulletin Issue 166--September-October, 1995. P. 201-204 [Article: From Glyph To Flag, By David Pawson]).

The ISCF System is a set containing 52 signal flags. These are a mixture of square flags and triangular/semitriangular pennants. The normal English alphabet is represented by 26 square flags (no provisions having yet been made for: punctuation, accents, foreign phonic/augmented letters)--A and B are swallowtailed, while C-Z are wholly square. The numerical digits 1-0 are also represented: Ships normally use the usual ISCF semitriangular burgees; the US Navy uses its own set of numerical square flags. The substitutors/repeaters--4 triangular pennants--are used to echo (repeat) a previously-used code flag (letter or digit) in a group; use of the 4th substitutor/repeater was initiated by NATO, and is used by most navies/fleets.

ISCF messages begin with the code and answering pennant, a red and white vertically-striped semitriangular burgee. The newly-introduced book traders' pennant is a white 7:11 triangular pennant with a blue book reader logo near its hoist; it's used to signal that there are books on board--either in an on-ship library, or for trade.

U.S. Navy Code Signals


Fourth Repeater


One ------------------------- Two ------------------------- Three


Four ------------------------- Five ------------------------- Six


Seven ------------------------- Eight ------------------------- Nine


Zero


Spell your name in Signal Flags!

[NEVA]
To the NEVA home page.

To the New England Journal of Vexillology page.



© 1996 NEVA - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED