posted on Aug, 8 2011 @ 03:53 AM
Originally posted by silent thunder
As has already been pointed out in this thread, hanging a flag upside-down is a symbol of distress, especially on the high seas where there may be few
alternative ways of signinaling in such a situation.
I have a question for you. Where did you learn this and have you ever served at sea? I would imagine the answers are somewhere in the region of
folkloric tales and no. Forgive me if I am wrong.
Hanging a national flag upside down is not officially a distress signal at sea these days. The full list of recognised distress signals is contained
in Annex IV of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (a document which I was required to memorise word for word at Naval
college). In the interest of following this sites mantra of "Deny Ignorance" it is as follows:
ANNEX IV - Distress signals
1. The following signals, used or exhibited either together or separately, indicate distress and need of assistance:
(a) a gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute;
(b) a continuous sounding with any fog-signalling apparatus;
(c) rockets or shells, throwing red stars fired one at a time at short intervals;
(d) a signal made by radiotelegraphy or by any other signalling method consisting of the group . . . — — — . . . (SOS) in the Morse
(e) a signal sent by radiotelephony consisting of the spoken word “Mayday”;
(f) the International Code Signal of distress indicated by NC;
(g) a signal consisting of a square flag having above or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball;
(h) flames on the vessel (as from a burning tar barrel, oil barrel, etc);
(i) a rocket parachute flare or a hand flare showing a red light;
(j) a smoke signal giving off orange-coloured smoke;
(k) slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering arms outstretched to each side;
(l) a distress alert by means of digital selective calling (DSC) transmitted on
(i) VHF channel 70, or
(ii) MF/HF on the frequencies 2187.5 kHz, 8414.5 kHz, 4207.5 kHz, 6312 kHz, 12577 kHz or 16804.5 kHz;
(m) a ship-to-shore distress alert transmitted by the ship’s Inmarsat or other mobile satellite service provider ship earth station; (see
(n) approved signals transmitted by radiocommunication systems, including survival craft radar transponders. (see GMDSS)
2. The use or exhibition of any of the foregoing signals except for the purpose of indicating distress and need of assistance and the use of other
signals which may be confused with any of the above signals is prohibited.
3. Attention is drawn to the relevant sections of the International Code of Signals, the Merchant Ship Search and Rescue Manual, Annex III and the
(a) a piece of orange-coloured canvas with either a black square and circle or other appropriate symbol (for identification from the air);
(b) a dye marker.
As you can see. Upside down flags are not mentioned anywhere, and far from having few other options, if I were to abandon ship into a liferaft I would
have options c,d,e,i,j,k and n. If I am still aboard the parent vessel I would have all options bar a. As such you are simply spreading misconceptions
whilst annoying your neighbours.
Flag signals in general are completely redundant in modern shipping. Due to the size of modern merchant vessels it is extremely rare except when
entering or leaving port or transiting a narrow channel to pass within 1 to 1.5 nautical miles of another vessel (1852 metres to 2778 metres) with the
largest vessels generally maintaining a 2 mile CPA (closest point of approach). At that distance with a normal pair of binoculars you would be lucky
to distinguish if she is even flying a flag, never mind which one. Also, ensigns are flown from the stern of the vessel, so are only visible from her
rear arc. Not a very efficient signal.
The whole idea of the upside down flag as a signal of distress is linked to the Union Flag. The idea being that the enemy is unlikely to recognise the
difference between it hanging correctly or upside down, whilst friendlies would know instantly. The important element of subterfuge is lost with a
flag like the US stars and stripes due to the obvious nature of the flag hung upside down.
In reply to the earlier British posters mentioning it, when I see the Union Flag hung upside down (which is often, even on government buildings) I
don't tend to think "distress" or protest. I tend to think Idiot! As ignorance accounts for 99% of cases where the Flag is flown upside
edit on 8/8/11 by cheesyleps because: (no reason given)