Warships with ceremonial pennants

Having seen photographs of naval ships flying what appear to be ceremonial pennants (usually stretching from bow to stern), I wonder whether the design/arrangement of these flags is significant, or whether they are simply a random combination of pennants.


Paul, there is significance to the way they are flown, but I don’t know the full ins and outs of it. I think if I remember what I was told, it’s “Dressing the ship.” It’s a typical Navy decorum thing… You can get it for ships commissioning etc and high profile visits, visiting foreign ports etc etc … It’s a long list.
I was told about it years ago by some old retired Admiral I was sat next to at the Army / Navy game at Twickenham…

Best person who could probably tell you 100% would be a serving officer like Jan @JJ1973 … Hope that sets you on right path mate :+1:

Some of the dressing appear to be signal flags ( the square ones ? ) each of these represents a letter of the alphabet IIRC

Try this:

Hi all!

Well, dress ship is common for special holidays, occasions, ceremonies etc., but in DEU Navy you see it less and less - it’s a very time- and personal intensive, tedious endeavor…
I was not sure if there is a NATO or even international way of doing this, as I didn’t find any pictures where we were in an international group of ships doing dress ship, and I couldn’t remember out of my head. So I asked Google, and no, everybody apparently has their own way of doing it.
So, point one, all of the flags use are signal flags, letters, number flags and number pennants. For dress ship the order does not have a special meaning, German way of doing it is I’d say typical German, a little bit boring but straightforward: A - 1 - C - 2 - D - 3 - E - 4 - F - 5 and so on. B (BRAVO) is omitted as it means ‘danger’.

Hope that bring a bit light into the matter,


Since posting the question, I’ve come across a likely answer … evidently, ‘dressing the ship’ involves utilising whatever pennants and flags are available in the ship’s flag locker to create a colourful display. It’s the responsibility of the Flag Officer (or designated person if an FO is not on board the vessel). The ‘dressing’ is only allowed either in the harbour or when approaching or leaving (never while the ship is ‘at sea’. The choice of pennants and flags is left to the discretion of the FO, with the proviso that no tactical/operational message is inadvertently displayed.


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Knowing naval humour I’m sure the sequence should also not be in bad taste so don’t leave it to the lower ranked sailors to select the flags and sequence :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh yes…I‘m not going to talk about what I’ve read between two „Sierra“ flags (for disregard everything between those flags, or drill message) when the junior ratings got the task to dry the flags…but that’s more 10, even more than 20 years ago. They got a proper yelling from the CPO and order to correct that immediately, but secretly everybody was smiling… No chance today, for any kind of profanity there would be paperwork and punishment following…

But, it may be „officially“ delegated, for the German Navy it’s clearly written down how dress ship has to be done, and UK RN, USN have their settings, too.

Dress ship is for obvious reasons only in port or approaches, or parades, as the flag lines can easily get entangled with radars and weapons…


I understand that in the Good Old Days (i.e. last century, or even before) the RN had a prescribed instruction for which flags should be utilised and in what order when dressing ship specifically to avoid offending anyone…



Not so different for life in general today… seems the only way to avoid offending someone is to never say anything, never write anything and keep your eyes closed lest you are perceived to have looked at someone the wrong way … Lol