Coastal Decor Nautical Signal Flags by IB Designs, USA






About Our Flags

What are Nautical Signal Flags?

Nautical signal flags alphabet flags translator
Signal Flags
ship with navy signal flags
The USS Marblehead, 1916
Photo by Thomas P. Naughton

old warships with signal flags, USS New York
The USS New York
Battle of Santiago

Back before wireless radio and telegraph, ships at sea needed a way to communicate from a distance. With their probable beginnings in the 18th century, code flags have evolved into the patterns accepted today. Our flags use the same patterns as those of the US Navy.

International signal flags continue to be useful today. Ships moving in and out of port fly their radio call sign so that they can be quickly identified by harbor masters. Additionally, with modern electronic surveillance tools, naval battle groups use signal flags to maintain radio silence.

sailboat with nautical signal flagsThere are 26 naval signal flags corresponding to the letters of the English alphabet. Then there are 10 numeric pennants, from 0-9. Additionally, certain repeater flags are used to pass information about the message itself. For example, a code that indicates a previous flag is repeated. Finally, there are a few special code flags, such as “Diver Down,” meaning there’s an underwater diver in the vicinity (so drive carefully).

Probably because of their colorful designs, a fully “dressed” ship flies all the flags for special occasions. In fact, the Navy Department specifies the order in which the flags are hung (hoisted).

How We Make our Flags

Most signal flag kits you'll find contain only one of each flag, including the code flags. They come in standard sizes, with Size 0 usually being around 9” x 15”. You'll also find inexpensive items where the entire alphabet is a single, non-separable (very long) plastic banner.

  • We sell separate, individual flags, and you can buy more than one of each letter or number pennant.

Our flags are square, 8” x 8”, and are designed to hang indoors from a rope, the rung of a “ladder,” or a typical curtain rod (3/4" or less). Rope, curtain rods or ladder rungs pass through a cloth "casing," not the typical grommets used in other flags. This makes it easier to hang them without additional knots, buckles, clips, or loops and toggles. (Click here to see our flag alphabet.)

By making our signal flags smaller, they don’t take up as much room. A one-word horizontal banner might be only 4 feet long, but it just as easily could be 15-20 feet long (or longer). It all depends on what it says and how many letters or words: It's your option.

We hand craft each flag at the time of your order, using high-quality cotton and broadcloth. Many companies offer only "screened" patterns printed directly on lightweight synthetics. That's helpful when using the flags at sea, where waterproofing is important. Our flags, although they can be washed (in cold water), aren’t designed for salt-water or ocean duty. They're designed as nautical decorations with the pattern on only one side and a white lining on the back.

  • Our flags are 1-sided, with a white cotton back lining. They're not nylon and are designed only to be hung indoors: not from a halyard.

Flag Details and Images

Below, you can see the basic ways we offer our banners. Click any thumbnail to see a larger image and get additional details.

New York City US Navy ships with signal flags
Decorated ships in New York City harbor

signal flag stitched liningAll our flags have a white cotton back lining (e.g., the letters "b" and "z" to the left). The backing makes the colors nice and bright, but it also means the pattern can only be seen from one side – the front. As we've said, our banners aren't designed to be hoisted up a mast on a sailboat.

Message Orientation

You can choose two different “orientations” in the banners — the direction they're read. In all situations, each flag's casing is at the top, not at the left, as seen in most Web representations. The flags are the same pattern, just rotated 90-degrees. However; you can get a banner that reads from left to right (horizontal), or from top to bottom (vertical ladder).

Horizontal banners (rope or valance) allow for more flags, as they’re usually hung across a wall or window, between trees, on a porch or other places where there’s lots of room. Vertical (ladder) banners hang from a picture hook on a wall, or you can use an over-the-door hanger for your front door or a bedroom door. The ladders are about 1 foot per flag, so keep that in mind in terms of height limits you may have. Order as many flags as you’d like. For vertical ladders, 3 – 6 flags look great when hung from a typical door or wall.

See our Products Page for more on our types of banners.

Washable – Use & Care

Unlike other flags we've seen, ours are individually machine stitched, using high-quality fabric. Each flag is separate, and can be washed in cold water, preferably on a delicate setting. The banners can be hung indoors or outdoors, but keep in mind that they're not designed for long-term outdoor use. Every flag has its English alphabet letter on the back so you'll know what it represents and in what order its placed.

Valance flags easily slip on and off a curtain rod. The horizontal banner flags can slip over their spacing knots, or you can untie the knots and slide the flags off the rope. The knots are simple overhand knots, and can be quickly retied when you re-string the flags.

The vertical flags are more problematic. This is because the knots on the side rope hold up the various rungs. As such, they're placed specifically for the rungs to be horizontal. Additionally, the top cord of the vertical banner is lashed (whipped), to connect it to the rope passing through the top flag's casing and rung. Although the lashing can be slipped upward when undoing the flags, depending on your knowledge of rope, these banners might be better dry-cleaned.

We use a fusing bond called Steam-A-Seam™ in some of our flags, and that company recommends that you don't use a dryer sheet (e.g., Bounce) or other fabric softener. You can wash or dry-clean our flags with no problem at all, just stay away from the fabric softener (it may loosen the bonding). That being said, we've washed our own copies of these flags many times and had no problems with fading or loose fuser.

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Here are some flags being readied for shipment, to give you an idea of scale. Flags are 8" x 8" with the additional casing at the top.

gift banners navy signal flags