Naval flag signalling covers various forms of flag signalling, such as semaphore or flaghoist, used by various navies; distinguished from maritime flag signalling by merchant or other non-naval vessels or flags used for identification.
2 Flag Examples
2.3 Naval maneuvering signals
4 See also
6 External links
Naval flag signalling undoubtably developed in antiquity in order to coordinate naval action of multiple vessels. In the Peloponnesian War (431 – 401 BCE) squadrons of Athenian galleys were described by Thucydides as engaging in coordinated maneuvers which would have required some kind of communication; there is no record of how such communication was done but flags would have been the most likely method.
Flags have long been used to identify a ship’s owner or nationality, or the commander of a squadron. But the use of flags for signalling messages long remained primitive, as indicated by the 1530 instruction that when the Admiral
doth doth shote of a pece of
Ordnance, and set up his Banner of Council on Starrborde bottocke of his Shippe, everie shipps capten shall with spede go aborde the Admyrall to know his will.
Several wars with the Dutch in the 17th century prompted the English to issue instructions for the conduct of particular fleets, such as (in 1673) the Duke of York’s “Instructions for the better Ordering of His Majesties Fleet in Sayling”. Signals were primitive and rather ad hoc (“As soon as the Admiral shall loose his fore-top and fire a gun…”), and generally a one-way communication system, as only flagships carried a complete set of flags. In 1790 Admiral Lord Howe issued a new signal book for a numerary system using numeral flags to signal a number; the number, not the mast from which the flags flew, indicated the message. Other admirals tried various systems; it was not until 1799 that the Admiralty issued a standardized signal code system for the entire Royal Navy. This was limited to only the signals listed in the Signal-Book. In 1800 Captain Sir Home Popham devised a means of extending this: signals made with a special “Telegraph” flag refererred to a separate dictionary of numbered words and phrases. A similar system was devised by Captain Marryat in 1817 “for the use of vessels employed in the merchant service”.
Marryat’s Code of Signals and various competitors have been supplanted by the International Code of Signals (I