On lists of nautical flag meanings (one and another), the letter U means you are standing into danger. I am familiar with the phrase from a sailing point of view - it means something like "if you keep doing what you're doing, something bad will happen." Like if you're headed for a reef or something. Today I used it (in a gentle, teasing tone) to a family member who was annoying me. And they asked "why standing and not heading into danger?"

I think it's because it also applies if you stay still; it just means whatever you are about to encounter will not be good. But I'd appreciate a little background on the history and etymology of the phrase, and whether it applies only if you're moving, or not moving, or whatever.

  • You are standing into danger is very non-standard English. You could just about get away with just replacing into with in, but most people would also discard the word standing. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 19:40
  • exactly. you're standing in or heading into danger, right? But that's the phrase and I wonder why that's the phrase Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 19:41
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    From the OED: stand v. 36.a. Naut. Of a vessel (hence of the commander, sailors, etc.): To sail, steer, direct one's course (in a specified direction, to sea, into harbour, etc.). Last citation 1705. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 19:43
  • oic - well, it looks like it's just a minimal change from flag signal NF, which means You are running into danger. That minimal change clarifies that U means you're in danger right now if you don't move, whereas with NF you'd be okay if you could just stay exactly where you are and not move at all. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 19:49
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    ...belay that, since John obviously knew better. But I'll leave it there for the link. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 19:50

3 Answers 3


Stand may mean "hold a course at sea" or, more generally, "face into". Hence we have expressions such as "standing into the storm", which were likely broadened over time to contemplate non-nautical dangers.

I read "standing into" as implying movement most of the time, though I suppose it's not necessary: the world moves relative to us at times, just as one may stand on a ship's deck and be moved through the heart of a storm. I think it seems all right to read the expression at issue as either "heading into danger" or "facing danger", but maybe someone with an open copy of the OED will weigh in.


According to definition 12 at The Free Dictionary, "stand" can mean "To take or hold a particular course or direction", so "standing into danger" is equivalent to "sailing into danger".


That usage of standing is surely close to the same meaning as 'being brought up all standing' - which means to come to a halt abruptly without shortening sail - by going aground or hitting some obstacle.

the U flag infers that by going on in the same way the vessel will encounter some danger as yet unspecified and should alter course or let fly sheets - though it is only polite to follow the U signal with some further instruction or explanation.

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