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Signal Flags - Ships Name


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I’m nearing the completion of my model ship kit of the ‘Phantom’ and would like to add nautical signal flags on the flag halliard for the ships name and home port.  After doing some extensive research (3 or 4 Google searches) I've learned that a four flag signal usually designates the name of the ship and where it’s from.  What I can’t find is how you go about arranging the flags to say ‘Phantom of New York’.  If anyone can tell me what four flags to use or if it's even possible I would appreciate it.




ps  If the name isn't possible any suggestions will be considered, just keep them PG-13.


Thanks again 

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   What you are talking about is the international call sign.  For US Navy ships, you can find their hoist at a site called NAVSOURCE.  He is the site for one of my old ships.   http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/941.htm


   I am not sure where you would find this for civilian craft, but harbor masters at any local port could probably tell you.

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I've also had a terrible time finding information on signals outside of modern international, Napoleonic British, and some US Civil War era stuff.


I've been trying to ID the hoist from a painting of Constellation at Naples in 1856, which I'm assuming is her "number" or ID, and intend to have it on my model.  What I'm worried about is it could well be the signal that the heads are clogged for all I know.



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Not sure how it would have been done in New York Harbor of 1868 or so.  This would have been right at the end of the period when Captain Frederick Marryat's Signal Flag Code was in use (note it was specifically developed for merchant vessels).  The International Code of Signals was first drafted in 1855. This system was first published as an international and a British volume in 1857 and gradually adopted by most seafaring nations. 


See http://www.pem.org/sites/archives/guides/signals.htm for a brief descriptive overview (though there are no details).


The International Code of Signals for 1909 is available at https://archive.org/details/cu31924030898351


The 1854 update to Marryat is at http://books.google.com/books?id=jGEBAAAAQAAJ

The 10th edition (1847) can be found here: http://books.google.com/books?id=LtsDAAAAQAAJ

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The four letter international call sign is assigned according to agreements specified in the code.  All ships, shore facilities or stations that can transmit radio signals have one.  They are assigned in blocks designated for each country.  For instance those starting in N are US Naval Vessels;  those starting in W are US civilian radio stations east of the Mississippi; those starting in K are US radio stations west of the Mississippi.


I'll see if I can dig up the reference I used to have showing what blocks are for what countries.


Ship and coastal stations used two letter call signs  from 1900 until the end of 1907, then three letter call signs started on January 1, 1908. Four letter call sign began to appear about 1923.

Edited by popeye2sea
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I photograph the flags in maritime paintings whenever I come across them. I have been adding to this collage now and then. These shots are nearly all of commercial ocean carrier type cargo ships of the late 1800's. Note that in many cases the hoist starts with a number and there are nearly always four letter flags beneath.

Not sure if this helps but I am throwing it in there.


Edited by JerseyCity Frankie
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The 10th edition of Marryat's assigns every ship a number.  The numbers are assigned in groups of 10,000 - 0-9999 with each group headed by a designator or some other grouping flag


BTW: 3rd and 4th from  the left of the top row in your collage are duplicates.



I checked Marryat's 1847 and 1855 for the ID in your collage - neither book uses the number 3 designator pennant, it's probably a later code.


Going by the 1847 book (warships aren't listed in the 55 edition because the French didn't want to play any more)

I'll assume the sloop of war Constellation retained the number of the frigate she replaced; 564, so I'll fly this hoist from the model's mizzen head:


Edited by JerryTodd
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A resource which, while not online, may be of use is the William L. Crothers Collection at the G. W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport (http://library.mysticseaport.org/manuscripts/coll/coll282.cfm )


Brief Description:

Papers and volumes resulting from Crothers' extensive research into the history, use and details of flags as used by the American merchant marine. Includes a "Directory of Private Signals Flown by American Merchant Sail" which contains an index of colored flags. The collection also includes two illustrated volumes detailing the history of the flag hoist signal system, as well as the related correspondence and references upon which Mr. Crothers based his work.



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After doing a little reading on naval signal flags I've decided to use the tenth edition of Captain Marryat’s Code of Signals, dated 1847, for the flags I’ll use for ‘Phantom’.   In part III of this code under merchant vessels there is a listing for the name ‘Phantom’ with the corresponding numbers of 9574.  I will use these numbered flags along with the First Distinguishing Pendant above them all, if I interpret the code correctly. 




Although the International Code of Signals was already in use (1855 to present) at the time the Phantom was put into service (1868), I decided to use Captain Marryat’s code for a couple of reasons.  First, because his code was still in use up until the late 1870’s with the last documented edition being printed around 1879.  Secondly, the Captain of this Phantom is an old sea dog who’s been sailing for what seems like an eternity and as he nears the end of his illustrious career the powers-to-be keep changing the codes for no apparent reason.  For the better part of forty years everything was fine with the old code but then some intellectuals decide to justify their employment by coming up with a new “improved” code that no one can understand, except lawyers.   And being a frugal man, having handmade his one and only set of signal flags many years ago, he’ll be damned if he’s going to spend money on a new set of flags or spend the time learning the new code so close to retirement.  Not wanting to rush his life along or anything, but he’s counting the days to when he retires and anchors his houseboat in the Keys, sipping pina coladas (actually scotch, single malt, neat) on the poop deck.  But I digress…..   :rolleyes: Here are the flags I will be using.




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