Having, for some years, served in vessels employed in the short sea trades from the United Kingdom, I found Andrew Bell’s feature about the MV Bolton Abbey in the October 2016 edition of Sea Breezes, to be particularly interesting.
There are two photographs on the right-hand side of the feature’s second page (page 33) and I am puzzled by the caption underneath the upper photograph which says that the ship is flying signals denoting that her Master possessed a Pilotage Exemption Certificate.
The only clearly discernible signal is the two flag hoist flying from the ship’s starboard yardarm. The flags comprising the hoist are ‘J I’ (or Juliet India, in the International Phonetic Alphabet). When the photograph was taken, the pre 1969 International Code of Signals would have been applicable and in Volume One of the code, the meaning of J I would have been given as ‘I am adjusting compasses’. As an apprentice and deck officer, I clearly remember having to hoist this signal on several occasions. If one looks closely at the photograph, a figure can be made out on Bolton Abbey’s monkey island. Most likely the compass adjuster!
This, of course, begs the question; is there a specific signal that the Master of a ship anywhere in European waters may fly to denote that he is Pilotage Exempt? As far as the paddle steamers once operated by P&A Campbell Limited in the Bristol Channel were concerned, all their Masters possessed Pilotage Exemption Certificates for their commercial ports of call; namely Bristol, Newport, Cardiff, Barry and Swansea. The signal flown then was a small pilot flag having white and red horizontal colours. Like the ‘H’ flag meaning; ‘I have a Pilot On-board’, but with the colours horizontal instead of vertical. This small flag was flown under the Red Ensign and was on the same halyard as the ensign and was sometimes referred to as a ‘lazy H’.
A voluntary ’Pilotage Exempt’ signal, sometimes seen in Australian waters, is a plain white flag. I know nothing of a special signal for the use of Pilotage Exempt Ship-Masters in other parts of the world.
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