If you've been to a marina for a large gathering of any kind chances are you've seen a set of international code flags, or signaling flags. There's always at least one boat in a flotilla festooned with flags up the stays.
When on a boat that's docked, flying these flags (especially more than 20 at a time!) mean "serious fiesta on board". They actually do have a purpose besides signalling cocktails. International code flags are normally used between ship and shore. Also called signalling flags, they're a set of flags of different colours, shapes and markings which used singly or in combination have different meanings.
The flags include 26 square flags which depict the letters of the alphabet, ten numeral pendants, one answering pendant, and three substituters or repeaters. Only a few colors can be readily 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 urgent or very common signals (see meanings below). Two-flag signals are mostly distress and maneuvering 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.
Here's some useful two letter signals:
And here's the most useful 9 letter signal:
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