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The Signalman’s Alphabet


Voyages aboard Sydney Heritage Fleet’s 1874 Barque James Craig often include a musical element. In the early voyages of the restored ship, crew member James Parbery – Jimmy Parbuckle is his musical name – would entertain with guitar and song. Some songs were instructive. Here’s an adaptation of The Bosun’s Alphabet by Jimmy for those who need to know how to spell phonetically and what signal flags signify.

There’s a chorus between each verse which goes like this:

Merrily, so merrily, so merry sail we,

No mortal on earth like a sailor at sea

Sing high and sing low as the ship rolls along

Give a sailor his grog, and then nothing goes wrong.

Now for the serious bit – what the alphabet means in phonetic pronunciation and in flag signals:

A is for ALPHA, a diver down low,

B is for BRAVO, my cargo might blow,

C is for CHARLIE, meaning YES, if you please, and

D is for DELTA, keep well clear of me.


 E is for ECHO, to starboard one peep!

F is for FOXTROT, disabled, please speak,

G is for GOLF, a pilot please, Lord, and

H is for HOTEL, and now he’s on board.

INDIA to port, two short blasts you’ll hear,

JULIET is danger, on fire and keep clear,

K is for KILO, I must speak to you, and

L is for LIMA, you must stop yourself now!


MIKE says I’m stopped, and perfectly so,

N for NOVEMBER, meaning no, no, no, NO!

O is for OSCAR, our man overboard,

P the blue Peter (PAPA), and it’s ALL HANDS ABOARD!

Q for QUEBEC, I’m healthy and free,

R is for ROMEO, no signal for thee,

S for SIERRA, three short blasts astern, and

T is for TANGO, beware the pair trawl-in’


U is for UNIFORM, you’re running into strife,

V is for VICTOR, I need help alright!

W for WHISKY, a doctor here, please,

X is for XRAY, stop that and watch me!

Y is for YANKEE, dragging anchor, oh dear

Z is for ZULU, need a tug over here,

And that is the best I can make it in rhyme,

If you can do better, you can sing it next time!

[CHORUS:] (repeat)

© 2004 Parbery & Parbuckle


This entry was posted on 05/04/2016 by in Sydney Heritage Fleet.
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