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Storm Signal flags (U.S.)

Last modified: 2007-10-20 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | storm signals | gale | hurricane |
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[U.S. Storm Signal flags] image by Rick Wyatt, 6 August 1999

[U.S. Storm Hurricane flag]
Hurricane Flag
[U.S. Storm Gale Pennant] image by Antonio Martins, 15 August 1999
Gale Pennant

See also:


Each U.S. Storm Signal Set consists of 2 Hurricane Flags and 2 Gale Pennants. They are used as follows:

  Type Wind Speed
1 pennant small craft
up to 38 mph
2 pennants gale
39-54 mph
1 flag storm/whole gale
55-73 mph
2 flags hurricane
74+ mph

In this day and age of satellite communications and instant information, these flags are no longer used by the government. However, individuals and marinas still use them.
Rick Wyatt, 6 August 1999

Coast Guard Usage

The storm warning flags were formerly used by the U.S. National Weather Service to warn ships and boats of bad weather. Although the NWS discontinued posting flag warnings on 15 February 1989, the announcement of that cessation said "U.S. Coast Guard and other stations may continue to display warning signals without the direct participation of the National Weather Service."

According to a Coast Guard message to all stations on 22 February 2001 (ALCOAST 069/01), some stations did indeed maintain the tradition of displaying these signals as a service to their local communities. The purpose of the message was to provide instructions for the continued use of the warning flags and directed that "Weather flags shall not be displayed by Coast Guard units except as provided for in this message." The guidelines now governing Coast Guard use of the weather flags:

  • Only displayed where the Coast Guard district commander deems appropriate.
  • Must be in accordance with warnings in force for the area as established by the National Weather Service.
  • The unit's entry in the United States Coast Pilot (a detailed guide to coastal navigation published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) will indicate whether the unit displays the flag signals. The fact will also be indicated on NOAA charts. [In other words, the station cannot decide to display the flags only some of the time--if it ever displays them, it must do so whenever a warning is in effect.]
  • The flags must be displayed from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset, except at stations authorized to fly the ensign 24 hours a day. In that case, the storm flags need not be taken in at night.
  • The flags must be visible from a navigable waterway.
Joe McMillan, 5 October 2001