Happy New Year for 2012

For over 150 years Sydney Observatory has marked the passage of time in Sydney with a daily time ball drop at 1300 hours. On New Year’s Eve the historic time ball will mark the midnight hour and welcome in the New Year.

And for the first time, for 2012, we will be  flying a signal using the International Code of Signal flags – the signal is, of course, “Happy New Year”.


"Happy New Year". Photo Toner Stevenson
“Happy New Year”. Photo Toner Stevenson© Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.


Richard Pool, our nautically knowledgeable Duty Officer explains…

The International Code of Signals (ICS) was developed from a late nineteenth century British maritime flag signalling system. It was adopted as an international maritime signalling system in 1932 at the International Radiotelegraph Conference in Madrid in 1932. Today the ICS is maintained by the International Maritime Organization.

The ICS consists of 26 alpha flags (A to Z) including 2 burgees (a burgee is a flag with a shallow angular indentation in the fly, or outside edge, that forms two tails e.g. A below), 10 numeral (0 to 9), 1 code (answering or decimal point) and 3 substitute (1st, 2nd & 3rd) pennants.

Each alpha flag represents a letter in the English alphabet so that words can be spelt out in a hoist. Also, each ICS flag represents a particular action, state or request e.g. flag A “I have a diver below” or H “I have a pilot aboard” or P “I am about to sail”.

A critical feature of the ICS system for maritime signaling is that it can be read and understood in all major languages with the use of ICS code book.

The International Signal Code – ‘Happy New Year’
The International Signal Code – ‘Happy New Year’

You can find out more about the Signal Station itself here.

Look for our coded signal flying over the Signal Station between now and the new year and from all the staff here at Sydney Observatory we wish you a Happy New Year!

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