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With ship flags, messages and signals can be easily exchanged from ship to ship. In particular, the flag alphabet serves thereby for the optical transmission of these signals by means of different flags. In practice, each letter of the Latin alphabet is represented by a specific flag. However, ship flags also exist as special flags with special meanings, which are often used even outside of shipping. Ship flags are part of good manners in coastal waters and are also partly mandatory. On the high seas and outside territorial waters, however, no flag must be flown.

Ship flags with different meanings

Special features are signaled by the flags of ships that are hoisted. For example, the "flag A" of the international flag alphabet means that a diver is under water. The so-called diver's flag is therefore also used internationally outside of shipping. One of the best known ship flags is certainly the "Blue PeterThe square blue square on a white background indicates that a ship will sail within the next 24 hours. This sign is mainly used by the crew on shore leave to signal their return.

Making the affiliation clear

Federal state flags and national flags clarify the affiliation of a ship to its home country. Likewise, it is nautical custom to place the flag of the host country abroad on the starboard side of the ship's mast. This should be placed slightly higher on the mast than one's own national flag. By hoisting the host country flag, you thus express that you are subject to the laws of the host country.

Signal flags

Whether pilot signals, call or host country flag, signal flags can be used to solve virtually anything on the water based on the flag alphabet. A complete flag alphabet should therefore not be missing, especially on larger ships. A complete set of these signal flags is also called a "Stell" and consists of 26 letter flags, 10 number pennants, 4 auxiliary standards and a reply pennant. The flags are read in order from top to bottom and should also be clean and not frayed. Signal flags are available in a variety of sizes and should be sized to fit the size of the vessel. Usual flag time is practically during the day from eight o'clock in the morning until sunset. At night, flags are not set, but position lights are. A special maneuver is the "over the topping flags," where the signal flags are raised like a pennant chain.

Other signal flags are the customs flag and the shipping company flag, which ships operate with a commercial purpose. Ships are also recognizable by the distinctive signal, which consists of a total of four signal flags of the international signal flag alphabet and correspond to the radiotelegraphic call sign. The hoisted flag of the country of destination also indicates where the ship's port of destination is located. For yachts, there are usually special regulations for flagging and lighting.