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What Ship, Where Bound? (Paperback)

A History of Visual Communication at Sea

Maritime Seaforth Naval Photographic Books Colour Books

By David Craddock
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 96
Illustrations: 300 colour & black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526784827
Published: 2nd February 2021

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What Ship, Where Bound? takes its title from the familiar opening exchange of signals between passing ships, and celebrates the long history of visual communications at sea. It traces the visual language of signalling from the earliest naval banners or streamers used by the Byzantines in AD 900 through to morse signalling still used at sea today.

The three sections, Flag Signalling, Semaphore, and Light Signalling each trace the development of the respective methods in meeting the needs of commanders for secure and unambiguous communication with their fleets. Though inextricably linked to naval tactics and fleet manoeuvres, the history of signalling at sea also reflects the exponential growth in global maritime trade in the nineteenth century when dozens of competing systems vied for the attention of ship owners and led to a huge proliferation of codes.

By setting each method in the context of its time, the book explores their practical use, successes and shortcomings and, particularly in the case of signal flags – though by no means exclusively so – their place in our visual, cultural and maritime heritage. Covering a wide spectrum of visual signalling methods from false fire, through shapes, furled sails and coloured flags to experiments in high speed text messaging by signal lamp, the book also examines the complex interrelation between all three methods under battle conditions. A detailed analysis of visual signal exchanges before and during the Battle of Jutland reveals both the success and ultimate limitations on flag signalling at the limits of visibility.

Extensively and beautifully illustrated, the book will appeal to present and former mariners familiar with the signals, all those with an interest in naval and maritime history, with particular emphasis on late eighteenth-century signalling practice, artists and ship modellers, graphic designers and all those involved in visual communications today.

If you have ever wondered what the flags decorating a docked ship are saying, or other examples of signals encountered in daily life, this book has the answer. Interesting and well told, What Ship, Where Bound? It is wholeheartedly recommended.

Read the full review here

Pirates and Privateers

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Bru Ships Youtube Channel

Review by Robin Knight

This is an always interesting window on a little-known (by landlubbers) topic. It will, as the book’s publicity, puts it “both enlighten and entertain.”

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Pangbourne College website

Review by David Hobbs

The author brings to life the methods used by admirals to manoeuvre their squadrons and fleets in the manner laid down in various code books as well as the methods used to send long range messages to deployed fleets. The timelines alone give fascinating insight into the history of naval communications and the publisher’s comments on the back cover claim that this book ‘will both enlighten and entertain’. I think that statement exactly describes What Ship, Where Bound?. It is a delightfully written and illustrated book that will appeal to a wide readership including naval professionals, historians, yachtsmen, modellers and artists. I thoroughly recommend it.

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Australian Naval Institute

“Wow what a splendid book. Amazing amount of detailed research and a must for the bookshelf of all buntings. The illustrations are the best I’ve seen in such a book.”

President of the Flag Institute

This book takes its title from the familiar opening exchange of signals between passing ships, and celebrates the long history of visual communications at sea. It traces the visual language of signalling from the earliest naval banners or streamers used by the Byzantines in AD 900 through to morse signalling still used at sea today. Covering a wide spectrum of visual signalling methods from false fire, through shapes, furled sails and coloured flags to experiments in high speed text messaging by signal lamp, the book also examines the complex interrelation between all three methods under battle conditions. A detailed analysis of visual signal exchanges before and during the Battle of Jutland reveals both the success and ultimate limitations of flag signalling at the limits of visibility. Extensively and beautifully illustrated, the book both enlightens and entertains.

Read the full review here

Julian Stockwin

About David Craddock

DAVID CRADDOCK began his working life at sea as a cadet with P&O during which time he had plenty of practice with the signal exchange that would become the title of this, his first book. A subsequent career as a graphic designer in the museums and heritage sector and an abiding interest in our maritime history has led him to explore the theme of visual communication at sea drawing on the twin strands of his own experience. He is a member of the Society for Nautical Research and has recently become a trustee of the Britannia Museum at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

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