Monthly Archives: March 2012

Guide Training ~ What Is The International Distress Signal?

As for your answers to my question…! What is the international distress signal?Emergency

Three shots, knocks, whistle blasts, bell bongs, light blinks, beeps, flag waves, smoke bombs or flares should bring help or at least some attention. If you are expecting help from the air, array three fires, lights, flares, or smoke signals as a large, easy-to-see triangle.  (Don’t start a forest fire, though!) A big X- the bigger the better – informs airborne searchers that you can’t go further and need assistance. A big I indicates injuries. A big F means you’re hungry and thirsty.

On the radio, the word MAYDAY repeated three times is often understood by non-English speakers.
Now, what about flying the flag upside down? It is known, at least to the dozen folks nearby, as  a sign of distress. As the discussion here in Chisana continued, I did more research on it.

EmergencyThis signal was formerly allowed as one of several methods of distress signaling authorized or recommended by the International Maritime Code of Signals, but I believe it is no longer in the code. It could then of course have been used by the seamen of any country with a flag which had an up and a down side.

Hoisting your national flag up side down (if it could be) was a last resort. The International Maritime Code of Signals provides plenty of alternatives. In http://www.themeter. net/nautical1_e.htm?Submit2=see+nautical+flags+meanings you will see the Code provides various signal flag groups to cater for all sorts of emergencies whereby a ship could call for outside help when other vessels or shore signal stations are in sight.

Then of course there was signaling SOS by radio in Morse code, or calling MAYDAY over voice radio to let the world know about your trouble. If another ship is in sight, the SOS could be signaled by signal Emergencylantern, or if no power is available, by Aldis battery powered signal lamp, or failing all else, making a fire at a safe spot on deck and signaling SOS by smoke signals! ( Provided of course wind and weather permitted).
I gained the impression from this that it is possible that the practice of flying the ensign upside down as a distress signal might not have been a very widespread custom, if at all.

The latest edition of the International Code of Signals (2005) list the following methods of signaling distress:Emergency

1. Sound signals: firing a gun or any other explosive means; continuous sounding of the fog horn; firing rockets or shells throwing red stars one at a time at intervals – in other words anything to draw attention to the ships plight.

2. Radio signals: sending SOS by Morse code or MAYDAY by voice radio; emergency position indicating radio beacons; radiotelegraph alarm signal (a series of twelve four second dashes with one second intervals); radiotelephone alarm signal (two audio tones transmitted alternately on a frequency of 2200 and 1300 Hertz for a duration of 30 seconds to one minute).

3. Visual signals: flames on deck from a burning tar or oil barrel etc); a rocket parachute flare or a hand flare showing a red light; a smoke signal giving of orange smoke; slowly raising and lowering the arms outstretched on each side.

4. Flag signals indicating distress: A square flag having above or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball; the flag group NC – I am in distress and require immediate assistance.

5. Flag signals indicating emergency situations: Flag D – Keep clear of me, I am maneuvering with difficulty; Flag F – I am disabled. Communicate with me; Flag J – Keep well clear of me. I am on fire and have a dangerous cargo on board, or I am leaking a dangerous cargo; Flag O – Man overboard; Flag V – I require assistance; Flag W – I require medical assistance; Flag Y – I am dragging my anchor.

“It is uncertain where this belief in the use of an upside down national flag as a distress signal comes from, but it is no longer a valid signal if it ever was, and as you also said, flying a national flag upside down is usually a sign today of ignorance and a disgrace to the flag concerned.” ~Andries Burgers

I believe, the fact remains, that many people believe that flying the flag upside down is a sign of distress. The “many people” I refer to are, in the most part, of an age when many of our emergency routines were taken from maritine habits and laws.


“My neighbor is a crazy asshole.” Says, @tomary on March 21, 2011. “I think he is being extremely disrespectful to have the flag turned. I am embarrassed to live right next to him.” Of course, this is @tomary’s opinion. (We all have one, right?) Health Care Bill, aside, the state and condition this once great and proud country is in is, in my opinion cause for distress, at the very least. I am more embarrassed, as a patriot and as a U.S. Navy Vet, that there seems to be so many people willing to not only accept, but to even shrug and not care that everything that America once stood for, can only be found in history books now.

What do you think? Are Americans, all the colors, breeds and races that made and make up this (once) great nation of hope and freedom, going to allow every single Amendment to our Constitution mean nothing or is this only the beginning of something far greater?

The 4 Points to Pioneer Outfitters Survival & Guide Training


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Old Time Guide~ Geriatric Boy Scouts or Living Legends?

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