Communications at sea

April 28, 2016



Communicating at sea by sign: I have already lauded the virtues of learning Morse code and knowing your flags. I am going to amplify my feelings on this now. At sea you are never positive that your VHF, UHF or HF radio is always working. Your cell phone is good for a few miles along the coast and who can really afford a satellite phone and how many people at sea could take calls from you anyhow? Or if your radio is working can you be sure of the other vessel that you want to communicate with. Perhaps if you are in international waters a foreign ship may want to communicate with you? How good is your Russian, Moldavian, Turkish or Yiddish? Flag signals cross all boundaries and have the same meaning in all languages. For the average boater just knowing the single flag signals would be enough but make sure you have a copy of multi flag signals on board as they are coded to give enough meaning to be able to fully communicate with any other yachty in any one of 180 languages! Just how good is that?

I use a copy of Brown’s Signalling by Brown, Son & Turner, Glasgow as it is pocket sized and takes up little room. The International Code Of Signals put out by the International Maritime Association London is official and a pretty big tome. Source these from Boat Books and if you put in an order over the net get some “flip cards” as well. Flags and Morse will be handy and you should have lights and shapes as well. These are handy pocket sized cards that can help you learn your night lights, day shapes flags and Morse.

For example, single signal flags flown from the mast mean.
G I require a pilot or if flown by fishing vessels I am hauling nets.
U You are running into danger
Y I am dragging my anchor

D Keep clear of me I am manoeuvring with difficulty
L You should stop your vessel instantly
K I wish to communicate with you
A I have a diver down below, keep well clear and proceed slowly
B I am loading or unloading dangerous goods, keep clear.

Officers of all ships on international voyages are expected by the International Maritime Association to know their Morse Code and flag signals as well as how to use them. It is a safety requirement and not negotiable. So as recreational sailors why should we poo poo the system. We live in an age of learning and communication and wouldn’t you be pleased to be able to communicate with any ship at sea?

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