R – Romeo and T – Tango

Prior to the 18th century, flags and lights were used to signal other vessels. During the 18th century, flags began to be combined in pairs to convey particular meanings. The beginning of the 19th century marked an improvement in the methods of conveying meaning with flags, especially in 1856, where the British government adopted a system of signaling through flags which could be utilized by all maritime nations. This is the beginning of the International Signal Code which consisted of 18 flags and code pennants. Since January 1903, the International Signal Code consists of 26 flags and code pennants. It is important for vessels to carry the international code of signals and a set of flags as it can be advantageous in terms of communication and safety among individuals utilizing the Great Lakes. Moreover, crews of lake life-saving stations use these signals to help distressed vessels. 

The Romeo flag in the NMGL collection is six feet and consists of a red background with a yellow cross. It represents the letter “R,” which signals “The way is off my ship- you may feel your way past me.” The meaning of this statement when used with numeric compliments refers to the distance in nautical miles. 

 Moreover, the red, white, and blue stripes on the second flag correspond to the letter “T.” This is the Tango and when it is flown, it represents “keep clear of me; I am engaged in pair trawling.”  This flag in the NMGL collection is one and a half feet. When these flags are combined, they signal “Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals,” which means stop what you are doing and wait for my command.

This exhibit is made possible by visitors like you.  Please consider making a donation to the National Museum of the Great Lakes to help us continue our important work of preserving and making know the history of the Great Lakes.