International Code of Signals (KB994E) - 2005 Edition

Number of Pages:
Published Date:
January 2005
Book Height:
300 mm
Book Width:
220 mm
1.5 kg
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Codes of signals have been published since the beginning of the 19th century to provide mariners with an internationally accepted, common system for communication at sea. Each signal within the International Code of Signals has a complete meaning, which ensures that specific situations related to safety can be clearly communicated through various means, even when language difficulties arise.

IMO MSC-MEPC.2/Circ.2 stipulates that International Code of Signals and IAMSAR Manual Volume III are for emergency use and should always be available on board ships in the form of hard copy.

Since its first edition, published in 1965, amendments to the Code have been adopted by the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) resulting in four subsequent editions. The fourth edition of the Code (2005 edition) incorporated all amendments up to MSC 73 in December 2000. The International Code of Signals has not been amended since its fourth edition and this current edition comprises only minor editorial improvements and a new cover. Therefore, both the 2005 edition and this edition of the Code are considered equally valid.


Codes of signals for the use of mariners have been published in various countries since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The first International Code was drafted in 1855 by a committee set up by the British Board of Trade. It contained 70,000 signals, used eighteen flags and was published by the British Board of Trade in 1857 in two parts, the first containing universal and international signals and the second British signals only. The code was adopted by most seafaring nations.

This edition was revised by a committee set up in 1887 by the British Board of Trade. The committee’s proposals were discussed by the principal maritime powers and at an International Conference in Washington in 1889. As a result, many changes were made, the Code was completed in 1897 and was distributed to all maritime powers. This edition of the International Code of Signals, however, did not stand the test of World War I.

The International Radiotelegraph Conference at Washington in 1927 considered proposals for a fresh revision of the Code and decided that it should be prepared in seven editorial languages, namely in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and in one Scandinavian language which was chosen by the Scandinavian Governments to be the Norwegian language. The new edition was completed in 1930 and was adopted by the International Radiotelegraph Conference held in Madrid in 1932. The new Code was compiled in two volumes, one for use by visual signalling and the other by radiotelegraphy. Words and phrases applicable to aircraft were introduced in Volume II together with a complete Medical Section and a code for accelerating the granting of pratique. The Medical Section and the pratique signals were prepared with the assistance and the advice of the Office International d’Hygiene Publique. The Code, particularly Volume II, was primarily intended for use by ships and aircraft and, via coast radio stations, between ships or aircraft and authorities ashore. A certain number of signals were inserted for communications with shipowners, agents, repair yards, etc. The same Conference (MADRID, 1932) established a Standing Committee to review the Code, if and when necessary, to give guidance on questions of use and procedure and to consider proposals for modifications. Secretarial duties were undertaken by the Government of the United Kingdom. The Standing Committee met only once in 1933 and introduced certain additions and amendments.

The Administrative Radio Conference of the International Telecommunication Union suggested in 1947 that the International Code of Signals should fall within the competence of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization* (IMCO). In January 1959, the first Assembly of IMCO decided that the Organization should assume all the functions then being performed by the Standing Committee of the International Code of Signals. The second Assembly in 1961 endorsed plans for a comprehensive review of the International Code of Signals intended to meet the

* The name of the Organization was changed to ‘‘International Maritime Organization’’ by virtue of amendments to the Organization’s Convention which entered into force on 22 May 1982.

present-day requirements of mariners. A Sub-Committee of the Maritime Safety Committee of the Organization was established to revise the Code and to consider proposals for a new radiotelephone code and its relation to the International Code of Signals. The Sub-Committee consisted of representatives of the following countries: Argentina, Federal Republic of Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom and the United States of America. The following international governmental and non-governmental organizations contributed to, and assisted in, the preparation of the revised Code: The International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Labour Organisation, the International Telecommunication Union, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Chamber of Shipping, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the International Radio-Maritime Committee.

The Sub-Committee completed the revision of the Code in 1964, taking into account Recommendation 42 of the 1960 Conference on Safety of Life at Sea and Recommendation 22 of the Administrative Radio Conference, Geneva 1959.

The revised Code is intended to cater primarily for situations related essentially to safety of navigation and persons, especially when language difficulties arise. It is suitable for transmission by all means of communication, including radiotelephony and radiotelegraphy, and embodies the principle that each signal has a complete meaning.

The Code was adopted by the fourth Assembly of IMO in 1965. Since then, amendments to the Code have been adopted by the Maritime Safety Committee and this publication incorporates all such amendments up to the seventy-third session of the Committee in December 2000.

Chapter I Explanations and general remarks

Chapter II Definitions

Chapter III Methods of signalling

Chapter IV General instructions

Chapter V Flag signalling

Chapter VI Flashing light signalling

Chapter VII Sound signalling

Chapter VIII Radiotelephony

Chapter IX Morse signalling by hand-flags or arms

Chapter X Morse symbols – phonetic tables – procedure signals

Chapter XI Single-letter signals

Chapter XII Single-letter signals with complements

Chapter XIII Single-letter signals between ice-breaker and assisted vessels

Chapter XIV Identification of medical transports in armed conflict and permanent identification of rescue craft

General section

I Distress – emergency


Accident – doctor – injured / sick

Aircraft – Helicopter


Boats – rafts

Disabled – drifting – sinking



Search and rescue


II Casualties – damages


Damages – repairs

Diver – underwater operations

Fire – explosion

Grounding – beaching – refloating


Towing – Tugs

III Aids to navigation – navigation – hydrography

Aids to navigation



Canal – channel – fairway


Dangers to navigation – warnings

Depth – draught

Electronic navigation

Mines – minesweeping

Navigation lights – searchlight

Navigating and steering instructions


IV Manoeuvres

Ahead – astern


To anchor – anchor(s) – anchorage

Engines – propeller

Landing – boarding


Proceed – under way


Stop – heave to

V Miscellaneous

Cargo – ballast

Crew – persons on board



Port – harbour


VI Meteorology – weather


Gale – storm – tropical storm

Ice – Icebergs


Atmospheric pressure – temperature

Sea – swell

Visibility – fog

Weather – Weather forecast


VII Routeing of ships

VIII Communications

Acknowledge – answer





Reception – transmission


IX International Health Regulations

Pratique messages

Tables of complements

Medical section

Table of contents


I Request for medical assistance

II Medical advice

Tables of complements

Medical index


Appendix 1 – Distress signals

Appendix 2 – Tables of signalling flags

Appendix 3 – Table of life-saving signals

Appendix 4 – Radiotelephone procedures

General index

A??s a specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented. ?

In other words, its role is to create a level playing-field so that ship operators cannot address their financial issues by simply cutting corners and compromising on safety, security and environmental performance. This approach also encourages innovation and efficiency.

Shipping is a truly international industry, and it can only operate effectively if the regulations and standards are themselves agreed, adopted and implemented on an international basis. And IMO is the forum at which this process takes place.

Number of Pages:
Published Date:
January 2005
Binding Format:
Book Height:
300 mm
Book Width:
220 mm
1.5 kg


Publication Date:
January 2005