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 Signaling 
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jenku wrote:
I am trying to find out about practices of hand signalling or other kinds of communication between ships and a boat or boats that do not have a mast to hoist flags on. Does anybody here have information about when the "modern" hand signalling (with flags) started to be used? I suspect it to be of later days as I mostly connect it with steamships, but it may have been used earlier?



In terms of alphabetical signaling, mechanical semaphore aparatus seem to have been first upon the scene. I believe that the introduction of alphabetical hand signalling (with or without flags) was in imitation of the mechanical. Possibly the date would be late 1870s or 1880s. I cannot quote a source.

However, I have no doubt that systems of non-alphabetical hand signalling existed for many centuries before this, perhaps similar to the surviving hand signals which are (or were) in the RN's Manual of Seamanship for communicating with boats coming alongside.


Sun Mar 22, 2009 4:00 am
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The Times, October 22, 1821:

" ... On Thursday evening the 11th inst., a series of experiments were tried at Harwich, and answered by Landguard fort, under the directions of Rear-Admiral Page, to ascertain and arrange the best method of exhibiting signals in case of a ship being in distress and requiring the assistance of the life-boats of that station. Several compositions were burned, which gave a brilliant light; and it was decided, that when assistance is required by night, blue lights shall be burned at Landgrave fort, and guns fired; and in the day, two flags are to be hoisted, one over the other, on the flag-staff at the fort. The arrangement is well worthy of imitation on every part of the coast. ......"


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Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:47 am
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The Times, January 4th, 1804:

" ..... On Sunday night, a serious alarm took place at Deal, in consequence of a rumour that, early in the evening, the enemy's flotilla had been actually seen off the Goodwin Sands. But this opinion seems to have originated from half minute guns, fired from his Majesty's gun-brig Conflict, Lieutenant Chambers, which being, by the strength of the tide, drifted to the South Sand head, she continued from five till twelve o'clock to fire guns, and let off blue lights; at length she got off. On Monday afternoon signals were continually making, and though it blew a tremendous gale, some of the frigates and brigs were getting under weigh. . ..... "


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Sat Aug 01, 2009 10:54 am
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Making signal to weigh

Series of images of signals by J. Greenwood

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Wed Sep 30, 2009 7:05 am
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Thanks, Susan, for that link. Greenwood’s work is mentioned in Corbett’s “Fighting Instructions 1530-1816” but I had never seen examples of his plates. These engravings are excerpts from the first attempt (1714) to publish a convenient signal book separate from the Fighting Instructions. Greenwood produced his small volume “as a Pocket Companion to the Printed Instructions and for the use of inferior officers who had not access to them”.


Wed Sep 30, 2009 10:21 am
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IONIA wrote:
These engravings are excerpts from the first attempt (1714) to publish a convenient signal book separate from the Fighting Instructions. Greenwood produced his small volume “as a Pocket Companion to the Printed Instructions and for the use of inferior officers who had not access to them”.

Hi Peter,

Thanks for the background. I was wondering where they came from. I knew they were from an earlier period based on the rigging and ornate details.

That's one annoying thing about this section (Prints and Drawings) of the NMM site. There is little/no information about the pieces.

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Wed Sep 30, 2009 2:14 pm
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