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The International Code of Signals (ICOS) consists of twenty-six flags, one for each letter of the alphabet, and a code flag. ICOS was generally accepted at the time of the World War I. At that time the great majority of ships were not equipped with radio then known as the wireless. Communication from ship to ship was carried out by use of flags and virtually all ships carried a copy of the ICOS and a set of the International Signal Flags. Messages were sent by hoisting the flags at a prominent place on the ship.
Some signals are sent with a single flag. Urgent and important signals are two flag signals. General signals are three flag signals. Geographical, alphabetic spelling tables, and vessel numbers are sent with four flags.
International Signal Flags
THE BRITISH SIGNAL MANUAL, published by James Brown and Son, 1912.
INTERNATIONAL CODE OF SIGNALS, published by Hydrographic Office, Washington, 1909.
Last Revision: March 4, 2007.
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