Flag Telegraphy Characteristics
Certain rules are common to all flag languages. For instance, flags are displayed high and always read from top to bottom. When several messages are hoisted, the way to read them is from the ship’s masthead, ending at the port yardarm (left side end).
Single letters are shown for urgent messages or commonly used signals. For example, the single letter C means “affirmative" (or yes). D means “Keep clear of me. I am maneuvering with difficulty." N is “negative" and O means “man overboard". V says that the ship needs “assistance."
You will note that the International Code is made up of pennant flags or flags that come to a point at the end. These enable a signalman to repeat a letter using another set of flags. If we were to spell out S-U-S-A-N, we would hoist the S, U, the first repeat flag, then A, and N.
In dire situations, the speed of flag hoisting was paramount. According to Captain Barrie Kent, training Signalmen was vital. He says, “This was done by what were called Marching Manoeuvres. Here each man represents a ship, the ‘Admiral’ with an appropriate flag, the others with ANSWER pennants. The ‘Admiral’ shouts out the flag signal, the ANSWER pennants are held out horizontally… until the signal is understood, then held up vertically until the Admiral shouts ‘Execute’ and off they go."