Distress Flags


Jan 3, 2001
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Was there any such flag used in 1912 that would signal "Assistance needed" Or "Come to our Aid?"

IMHO, if ships passing could see mast lights, they
may be able to see a distress flag flying by the
light at night, but certainly during the day.

Thanks
Rosanne MacIntyre
 
S

Stephen Stanger

Guest
The flag signalling had been around way before Titanic and there were flags for nearly every maritime communication necessary.
But for Titanic, probably not, unless they had a spotlight or similar illumination directly on the flag.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Among the distress signals used by day was the two-flag signal NC. This was not a legitimate night signal, light or no light. The recognised night signals of distress were---

(1) A gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute.
(2) Flames on the vessel (as from a burning tar barrel, oil barrel, etc.).
(3) Rockets or shells, throwing stars of any color or description, fired one at a time in short intervals.
(4) A continuous sounding with any fog-signal apparatus.
 

Mark Baber

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Dec 29, 2000
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For U.S. vessels, flying the U.S. flag upside down has long been recognized as a distress signal.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Mark, the same goes in Britain, but it's unofficial. I once read an account by an English yachtsman who tried it, just to see what would happen. Nobody even noticed. Personally, I'll back an EPIRB.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Flying a national ensign upside-down is more recognized in nautical fiction than at sea as a distress signal. Few people know every national ensign and even fewer could recognize one that was inverted. Thus, hoisting "Old Glory" or any other national flag inverted would not be a very reliable distress signal.

Believe it or not, hoisting a beach ball over a national flag (or below it) would be a legitimate distress signal. The rules call for, "a signal consisting of a square flag having above or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball.

However, Titanic sank at night. Ball-over-flag is a daytime distress signal and, as such, would not have been appropriate. (A signal that requires daylight to see is not considered as appropriate at night for obvious reasons.) Night signals are pyrotechnics such as the rockets used by Boxhall, although today they must be red in color. Or, a night distress signal would be the use of Morse code by signal lamp--which Boxhall also tried.

The one distress signal not tried on Titanic was burning a barrel of pitch. Flames on a vessel are considered a sign of distress for obvious reasons. I've read stories of mid-19th century whale ships attracting attention by the flames from their try pots for this reason.

--David G. Brown
 
Mar 3, 1998
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The British Code Signal Book dated 1913 provides an additional distress signal in addition to those already given in Article 31 of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, some of which both Daves quoted above. The additional signal is a "cone point upwards with a ball either above or below it." Again, this can only be used during the day.

Parks
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Section 418, Article 31 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 with Amending acts, as in force in 1912, outlined the following for distress signals:

Art. 31 - When a vessal is in distress and requires assistance from other vessels or from the shore, the following shall be the signals to be used or displayed by her, either together or seperately, viz.:-

In the daytime-

1. A gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute;
2. The International Code signal of distress indicated by N C;
3. The distant signal, consisting of a square flag, having either above or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball;
4. A continuous sounding with any fog signal apparatus.

At night -

1. A gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute;
2. Flames on the vessel (as from a burning tar-barrel, oil-barrel, etc.);
3. Rockets or shells, throwing stars of any colour or description, fired one at a time, at short intervals;
4. A continous sounding with any fog signal apparatus.

List of countries to which the above regulations apply, subject to the limitations and conditions stated above-

Argentine Republic
Austria-Hungary
Belgium
Brazil
Bulgaria
Chile
China
Costa Rica
Denmark
Ecuador
Egypt
France
Germany
Greece
Guatemal
Italy
Japan
Mexico
Netherlands
Norway
Peru
Portugal
Roumania (sic)
Russia
Siam
Spain
Sweden
Turkey
United States
Venezuela
 
Jan 3, 2001
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A late thanks for the responses. Been without a computer for days.

MAB-I know that flying the U.S. flag upside down is a bit more than nautical fiction because of White Star History data you've posted of a WS ship going to the rescue of another ship because of the flag being upside down. I will post post the incident when I run accross it again.

Thanks for the unput folks
Rosanne MacIntyre
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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The flag upsidedown must go back many years. I recently came on a drawing by William Westall, dated 1803. It shows the camp made by Matthew Flinders and his men after they were wrecked on Reef Island, about 600 miles north of Sydney. They erected a flagpole and the drawing shows the ensign flying inverted.
 

Mark Baber

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MAB-I know that flying the U.S. flag upside down is a bit more than nautical fiction because of White Star History data you've posted of a WS ship going to the rescue of another ship because of the flag being upside down.

6 December 1929: Off Newfoundland en route to New York, Baltic II heads
toward the sinking schooner Northern Lights after spotting her reversed
ensign. Baltic's Capt. Evan Davies dispatches a lifeboat manned by
Third Officer J. H. Walker and nine seamen, who rescue five of the six
members of the schooner's crew despite being in the midst of a "savage
storm" with "a wind of hurricane force". The lone fatality is Rex
Parsons, the 20-year old son of Northern Lights' captain, who had been
ill of pneumonia and was reportedly laughing deliriously as the rescue
effort was being made; he jumped overboard wearing heavy seaboots and
was not seen again. P. A. S. Franklin, president of IMM (White Star's
United States agent), is a passenger on Baltic and calls the rescue the
finest thing he had ever seen. Davies, Walker and the nine seamen will
later be rewarded by the Life Saving Benevolent Association of New York
for their efforts. (Sources: The New York Times, 7 and 11 December 1929;
Lloyd's List, 2 January 1930; Anderson's White Star; Haws' Merchant
Fleets.)

This what you had in mind, Ro?
 
A

Alex Twitchen

Guest
I don't know about the US Flag but as a boy scout in the late 70's early 80's we were always warned about the importance of ensuring that we flew the British Flag or Union Jack the right way up.

The story told to us was that because the Union Jack looks almost the same either way up flying it upside could be used as a distress signal to other Brits without necessarily attracting the unwanted attention of foreign enemies.

Any takers ?

Regards


Alex
 
Jan 3, 2001
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That's the one I remembered MAB. Thanks for posting it. I'll keep an eye out when going through the White Star Magazines for others.

Rosanne MacIntyre
 
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John Meeks

Guest
I've heard that story too, about the Union Jack - but I have a major problem with it...

As a Brit myself, and I'm sure I'm not alone, I'm damned if I can tell which is the right way up!

On reflection, I now have to look back at all those poor, distressed British sufferers of times past whose cries for help went unheeded...!

But at least I now know why !

Regards,

John M

(PS I suppose Austrians have the same problem...)
 
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Alex Twitchen

Guest
John

The difference is to do with the white diagonal stripes which are wider on one side of the red diagonal stripe than the other.

The flag is flown the right way up when the wider white diagonal is at the top on the side attached to the flag pole.

The number of times that you see it flown upside down is quite surprising though, even on public buildings. Our local supermarket was flying the Union Jack upside down at the weekend but then I suppose at this time of the year it is pretty distressing place to visit !

Regards


Alex
 
J

John Meeks

Guest
Yes,
I seem to recall going through this exercise as a very young boy at school - we all had to make a folding/cut-out cardboard 'thingy' consisting of the three flags of the Union - it ended up as a Union Jack. To this day I can't remember which wide white stripe goes where...!

Just goes to show, doesn't it...put the English, Irish and Scots together and you'll end up with the odd complication or two!

Of course, this really annoys my better half - she wants to know where her Welsh dragon went! (Perhaps it should be incorporated! Or would that be a little too much?)

Regards, and thanks for the reminder!

John M
 

John Hemmert

Member
Oct 16, 2002
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Hi all,

Interestingly, two of Titanic's "signal flags" ended up in Dennis Cochrane's possession. 3rd Officer Herbert Pitman carried them off with him in the lifeboat. I remember seeing them for sale (quite expensive) on Dennis's online store back in early 1998. I believe they were of the "semaphore" variety. (As opposed to the "alphanumeric" type one runs up the rigging.)
John.
(PS: Kind of hard to remember, but I think they both had the color red in them, and had handles on them. They might have been red/orange, divided diagonally.)
 
Sep 28, 2002
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Northern Ireland
Boys o Boys, Not knowing your flags!! The Union flag is only a Union jack when it is on the bow of a ship.

It is a distress signal when it is upside down. Please notice the position of St. Patricks cross in the upper left hand corner, this is the correct position for normal use, not distress.
87108.gif
 

Dennis Smith

Member
Aug 24, 2002
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Hi All,

Actually the only time the Union Flag is called the Union Jack is as James says, on a ship and flown from the jack staff forward. On a Royal Navy ship this is the Union Flag, but if a jack is flow on a merchant ship the Union Flag must have a white border all the way around it. The Union Flag cannot be flown on the Jack Staff of a merchant vessel. This law (Rule??) was passed in 1634 by Charles 1st and has never been repealed.

Info obtained from:-

www.flaginstitute.org/fiunionflag.htm

Cheers

Best wishes and Rgds

Dennis
 

Noel F. Jones

Active Member
May 14, 2002
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Apropos flying the Union Flag upside down as a distress signal:-

It occurs to me that one must be distressed indeed if salvation is to depend solely on some pedantic bugger actually noticing the thing is upside down!

Noel
 

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