top of page

Shipboard Communications

Shipboard communications took on many forms. Shipboard oral messaging was generally via the "21MC loudspeakers" sometimes called the squawk or b----- box, the sound Powered Phone System and in-person by the "Messenger of the Watch". The Messenger of the Watch would also deliver written messages. Communications between the Beale, other ships and stations consisted of Radio, Flashing Light, Semaphore and Flag Hoist. Beale's Radio, Flashing Light, Semaphore and Flag Hoist call sign was NAWC. Her VOICE call sign was ENCHANT.















                   N                             A                          W                             C


Communications between the Beale, other ships and stations consisted of Radio, Flashing Light, Semaphore and Flag Hoist. Beale's Radio, Flashing LIght, Semaphore and Flag Hoist call sign was NAWC. Her VOICE call sign was ENCHANT.


Semaphore is one of the oldest signaling systems used in the Navy, All recruits had to learn Semaphore to graduate boot camp. It was continued to be used by members of the Deck Force, Gunnery and others working on the bridge and weather decks. It was mastered by Signalmen and Quartermasters for communicating with nearby ships.


Semaphore utilizes signal flags for the alphabet, numerals and indicators. Each "character is sent by positioning the flags then holding them in position long enough for the receiving Signalman to "read" the character then record it so the message can be assembled. Semaphore would also be used to communicate between the bridge and other viewable areas of the ship, the pier and sometimes between ships during UNREP and other High Line operations. In those instances, flags were seldom used. Signalmen and others would just use their arms. While most "between ships" Semaphore was "official business", other "not so official" communciations involved mail, movies, ice cream, etc.


Shown above is the Beale's call sign in Semaphore. The graphics were taken from the 1918 Blue Jacket's Manual.




Radio was the principal means of long distance communications to send and receive messages to other ships, shore stations and when supporting ground forces. Radio equipment provided a means to communicate via CW-Morse Code, Radio Teletype and Voice.


CW was the preferred and usually the only means for sending messages to shore communciation stations. CW was generally unaffected by distance and weather conditions. Speed of communications was measured in Words per Minute (WPM). CW speeds varied between 10 and 35 WPM depending on the Radiomen and atmospheric conditions. You can click on the Blue Audio Player Button below to hear the Beale sending an alert to "any US Naval Ship or Station that Beale has a FLASH precedence message for transmission" The Morse Code characters are NQ NQ NQ DE NAWC NAWC NAWC Z Z Z K. FLASH precedence would be used only in times of extreme importance and urgency.





Radio Teletype was the preferred way to receive messages on what was known as the Fleet Broadcast. Messages were broadcast from shore stations to virtually all ships at sea. Radiomen would monitor the messages as they were printed on teletypes. Those addressed to the Beale would be typed on message blanks then routed to the Captain, XO and others requiring the information. Messages were received at 100 WPM...much faster than CW! However, Radio Teletype could be adversely, sometimes severely affected by radio reception due to time of day, weather and other atmospheric conditions. When the Fleet Broadcast was down, Radiomen would have to revert to monitoring the older, slower and usually reliable CW FOX Broadcast. The speed was usually about 20 WPM. Much slower, but it got the job done. Voice was generally used for tactical comunications in task force and task group operations, "talk-between-ships" (TBS) situations, e.g., refueling and other UNREP operations. The operators were generally Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch. Voice Communications Protocols were followed very carefully for order, clarity and to minimize "air time". In the simplest of terms, TBS was similar to a "multi-party" Telephone line.​        

Anchor 1
Anchor 2

Flashing Light

Flashing Light signalling has been used since 1867 for ship to ship communications and it continues to be used today. Since it is "line of sight" and generally directional, it became the primary mens of communications between ships during WW-II when radio silence was required. This was especiaqlly true for ships in convoy. Its major drawback isdecreased reliability and range during foul weather and rough seas. Signal Lights are mounted on either side of the bridge and operated by Signalmen, occcasionaly by Quartermasters and others who "catch the knack" of reading light. The light would be pointed at the desired target ship then its signal lever would be operated to send the message in Morse Code. Maimum speed for an extremely proficient Signalman is about 12-14 words per minute.


The photo below is of Hartwell "Jim" Paul on the light, circa 1961.

Anchor 3

You can see the Beale's call sign NAWC flashed in the animation shown below by clcicking on the "arrow".

Anchor 4


FIaghoist signalling is the most rapid and accurate visual method when in easy signalling distance in daytime. It is used mainly to convey tactical and informational messages during daylight, between ships that are in close company with each other. Flaghoist is considered the best way to insure uniform execution of maneuvers. When ships are uderway in formation, flaghoist signallingis reserved primarily for the transmission of collective-address signals by unit commanders. But it may also be used for sending signals  pertaining to current operations, and for routine reports requested for unit commanders.

To the right is the Beale's call sign, top to bottom, NAWC. NAWC would be flown from the port yardarm as an additional means to visually identify the 471.

Unfortunately, we have excluded tactical formation flags in the website. If any of you old SM's out there can help us with this, please contact us.

Shown above is a photo of a Flagbag taken aboard the USS The Sullivans DD-537, a Fletcher Class destroyer, as was the Beale. A close look at the symbols, shows where all flags were stowed for quick retrieval and smooth Flaghost operations.


When in port and at Full-Dress Ship, the flagbags would be emptied of all flags. The flags and pennants would then be strung from Jackstaff to Masthead to Flagstaff.


In addition to Semaphore, Flaghoist, especially under Full-Dress Ship is probably the the origin of the Signalman's nickname,  "skivvy waiver".


Should anyone have photos of the Beale Flagbags or of the ship in Full-Dress, please contact us.

bottom of page