ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
Treaties and Documents
1949 Conventions and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Annex I (to Protocol Additional I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949) : Regulations concerning identification, 6 June 1977
Other means of communication
[p.1269] Annex I, Article 11
-- Other means of communication
4253 The draft text on other means of communication submitted by the ICRC -- Article 12 of draft Annex I -- referred to Annex 12 to the
Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation of 7 December
1944. This Annex is entitled "Search and rescue" and it is applicable
to the search and rescue services in the territories of Contracting
States and on the high seas, and to the co-ordination of such
services between States. Chapter 5.10 and Appendix A of Annex 12
provide for aircraft and ships to exchange visual signals for search
and rescue purposes and [p.1270] also refers to two ground-to-air
visual signal codes for use by survivors and search parties.
4254 Other visual and light signals for search. and rescue are given in the ICAO Search and Rescue Manual, Part 2, Chapter 2,
"Communications". They include paulin signals and body signals in the
ground-to-air visual signal codes for use by ground search parties
and survivors. (1)
4255 It may be assumed that crews of medical aircraft are familiar with these visual means of communication, which are described in
international search and rescue procedures. However, it would be
advisable for the personnel of other medical units and transports to
receive some training in this area as well, so that, if necessary,
visual signals may be used in time of armed conflict, subject to the
approval of the competent authority.
4256 In order to avoid any differences of interpretation when these visual signals are used in medical evacuation or search and rescue
operations, the Parties to the conflict could notify one another of
their intention to use such signals, under the agreements concluded
in respect of such operations.
4257 The methods to be used for sending the visual signals concerned are described in the Search and Rescue Manual, Part 2, Chapter 2,
"2.3.3. ' Ground-Air Visual Signal Code for Use by Land parties '
188.8.131.52. When a land party wishes to inform an aircraft of the progress of the search and/or rescue, it should use the appropriate symbols described in Figures 2-1 and 2-2.
184.108.40.206. The symbols shown in Figures 2-1 and 2-2A may be made of any available material, e.g., strips of fabric or parachute material, pieces of wood, stones, snow blocks, etc., or by digging shadow-throwing trenches. The symbols should be at least 8 ft (2.5 m) long and provide as much colour contrast as possible with the background. The symbols shown in Figure 2-2B are the so-called paulin or panel signals and are made by folding a paulin, a type of rubber poncho, provided in a life-raft. They are neon-red on one side and non-specular blue on the other (other models are yellow-orange and sea-blue)."
4258 Chapter 4 and Appendix A of ICAO Annex 2, "Rules of the Air", refer to other visual signals used for giving aircraft clearance to
approach, land and taxi on aerodromes.
4259 Section 3 of Appendix A describes the visual signals used to warn an unauthorized aircraft flying in, or about to enter a restricted,
prohibited or danger area. They consist of a series of projectiles
discharged from the ground at intervals of ten seconds, each showing,
on bursting, red and green lights or stars. They indicate that the
aircraft is to take such action as may be necessary to leave the
area. These are not the interception signals referred to in Article
' (Signals and procedures for the interception of medical
aircraft) ' below.
[p.1271] 4260 The IMO International Code of Signals contains detailed instructions on visual transmission methods:
-- ' Flag signalling: ' the International Code's set of signal flagsconsists of 26 alphabetical flags, 10 numeral pendants, 3
substitutes and the answering pendant. Messages are always coded
using the Code's letter groups.
-- ' Flashing light and sound signalling: ' international Morsesymbols are used; they represent letters and numerals and are
expressed by dots (short) and dashes (long). Theoretically, a
dash is equivalent to three dots. Luminous Morse signals are sent
by showing and covering a light. Sound Morse signals consist of
long and short blasts produced by a siren, a whistle, a foghorn
or any other sound-producing device.
-- ' Morse signalling by arms: ' this method is described in Chapter IX of the Code by means of a table showing how the arms are
lifted or stretched to form a dot or a dash. A flag may be held
in each hand. Signals may be sent without a flag or using one arm
only; this Morse signalling method has replaced the former system
of semaphore signalling by arms. If a time count is kept, the
message will necessarily conform to the Code's groups. The use of
international codes calls for familiarity with the compulsory
procedure to be used for each method of transmission. Practice is
also necessary in order to achieve a satisfactory visual
signalling rate. For example, the standard rate of Morse
signalling by flashing light is eight words per minute.
4261 Visual signalling using international codes is the last means of communication left in situations where there are no wire or radio
links and a messenger cannot be sent.
' Ph. E. '
NOTES (1) [(1) p.1270] ICAO, Doc. 7333-AN/859, ' Search and Rescue Manual ', Parts 1 and 2, ICAO, Montreal, 3rd edition,