Knowing weather conditions in advance can be a life-saver at sea. Of course in our modern era of GPS, radio, sonar, radar and more “bars” than you can shake a stick at anywhere in the world (tweet from Everest!) the point is moot. But even a short 100 years ago running into a violent storm unawares was not just a possibility but and unfortunate probability.
Before the dawn of the radio age, coastal vessels looked toward the land for their warnings. Visual signals were developed in the early days of global Coast Guards and the U.S. was at the forefront of this endeavor. Though the urgency has gone to some degree, the time honored signals in the form of pennants and flags or lanterns continues at certain private marinas, lighthouses, beaches and yacht clubs up and down the coasts of both oceans and in the Gulf. Here is a brief and by no means all-inclusive list of those signals.
Red Pennant: Small craft warning; moderately strong winds.
By Day, Red Pennant above a square Red Flag with black center/By Night, Two Red Lanterns, one above the other: Northeast storm warning.
By Day, Red Pennant below a square Red Flag with black center/By Night, One Red Lantern: Southeast storm warn.
By Day, White pennant below a square Red Flag with a black center/By Night, a White Lantern below a Red Lantern: Southwest storm warning.
By Day, White pennant above a square Red Flag with a black center/By Night, a White Lantern above a Red Lantern: Northwest storm warning.
By Day, Two square Red Flags with black centers/By Night, Two Red Lanterns with a White Lantern between them: Hurricane (or whole gale) warning.
Still handy today (if you are out in a small craft without a radio they are down right necessary), it’s worth making a note of these signals just in case. One can’t be too careful. At sea it isn’t will the storm hit, it’s when will the storm hit.