Code Flags

Picture this: You’re out on your boat and the engine stops.  You call the Coast Guard, and they ask you how to spell your boat’s name phonetically.  Or say you’re hailing another vessel, and they ask you to spell your boat’s name phonetically.  Or, say that there’s this boat out on the water with the following flags up: Hotel, Echo, Lima, Papa.  It’s in the Sea Scout oath that we should “be prepared to render aid to those in need,” so it would be nice to know when people need rescuing.

It is true that some people have a cheat sheet that they can turn to in cases such as these, but we’re Sea Scouts, and we’re better than cheat sheets.  Besides, when a random boat sails by with festive code flags lining the shrouds, you can be the one to impress your fellow sailors by telling them what it says.

The Alphabet:

  1. Alpha: The flag is blue and white, and I always remember it because if you squint it looks like a dog, with a blue muzzle, barking.  Thus, Alpha dog, and thus, Alpha.  This means that there is a diver below, and that all other boats should stay clear.  As a result, that boat would be the alpha boat on the water. The flag also looks like a flipper, hence diver. Also, when I look at it I see the A in the diamond cut out with the stripe between colors as the stripe in the A, which helps differentiate it from Bravo.
  2. Bravo: Bravo is the one that looks like it is on fire.  You can just imagine telling the person that started the fire, in a very sarcastic tone, “Bravo, well done.  Now we’re sinking.”  Mind you, if it appears on a boat, it means that dangerous cargo is aboard – something that may cause a fire. This only applies to very, very, terribly sarcastic people. Like me.
  3. Charlie: This looks nothing like the flag, as it’s a name.  If seen alone, this flag means yes.
  4. Delta: You can imagine the yellow top and bottom as two shores with a river in between, the river leads to the delta.
  5. Echo: This is a blue sky over red dirt.
  6. Foxtrot: The diamond shape is the shape that you would dance if you were doing the foxtrot. Foxtrot is a four step dance, the flag as four distinct corners.
  7. Golf: This flag has yellow and blue vertical stripes, reminiscent of the plaid pants that golfers wear.
  8. Hotel: There’s a red brick wall, like the Red Roof Inn.
  9. India: One big black dot of India ink in a yellow field.
  10. Juliet: Blue white blue, she’s a Montague. For those of the youth studying Romeo and Juliet at the moment keep in mind that she isn’t actually a Montague, she just wants to be
  11. Kilo: This flag has two stripes, a yellow on the left and a blue on the right.  It’s one of those you’ll just have to memorize.
  12. Lima: I always imagine that there are no speed limits in Peru, and this looks like the yellow and black version of the race car “go” flag.
  13. Mike: Similarly to Charlie, the Mike flag looks nothing like the name Mike.  It has a white X through the middle of a blue field. You could think of it as a guy floating in a pool, with his arms and legs sprawled out at 90 degree angles.
  14. November: This flag looks like a blue and white checkered calendar.
  15. Oscar: This flag has the Oscar-Meyer Weiner colors, yellow and red.
  16. Papa: The white spot in the blue field is symbolic of Papa’s bald spot!
  17. Quebec: A bright yellow field.
  18. Romeo: Since there is a Juliet, there is sure to be a Romeo.  This flag looks like a red package with yellow ribbon – the perfect romantic gift a Romeo would be sure to give. It could also be considered Romeo’s family crest which he’d have had on his shield when he was sword fighting. It’s also the opposite of the red cross, since Romeo killed people rather than helped them
  19. Sierra: It’s Papa’s daughter, she doesn’t have a bald spot.
  20. Tango: These are the colors of the French flag, and anyone could imagine the French doing the Tango!
  21. Uniform: This looks like a red and white checkered uniform.
  22. Victor: With a skinny X drawn through the middle of a white field, a V is always right-side up, even if it’s upside down. As long as you can remember that Mike is floating in the pool you can remember that Victor is the one with V’s.
  23. Whisky: This flag looks like the bloodshot eye someone might get if they drank too much whiskey.
  24. X-Ray: Ironically, this does not have an X on it.  Instead, it looks like the X-Ray of Romeo’s gift.  This also looks like the board that the doctor puts all the X-Ray’s up on.
  25. Yankee: This looks like what the mud would look like if you dragged an anchor though it, which is great considering the flag also means “dragging my anchor.”
  26. Zulu: This has all the possible colors together on one flag, celebrating the end of the alphabet.

Good luck with the flags and following seas!

Eva Hogan

National Sea Scout Boatswain

Ship 502 – Houston, TX



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