The Nelson Chequer was a colour scheme adopted by vessels of the Royal Navy, modelled on that used by Admiral Horatio Nelson in battle. It consisted of bands of black and yellow paint along the sides of the hull, broken up by black gunports.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, vessels of all nations were painted in a variety of colours. Ships captains were allowed great leeway in the way they painted their vessels, as it aided identification in battle.
Periodically the Royal Navy sought a uniform colour scheme; In 1715, an Admiralty order decreed the use of yellow and black, and a uniform colour within. However, this was generally ignored. Again in 1780 the Admiralty then issued a further order allowing Captains to paint in yellow or black.
Nelson favoured yellow, with black bands, he also had the underside of his gunports painted black. This meant that when the ports were closed the hull would appear striped, and when opened (ready for action) the hull would appear chequered. Thus signaling “intent” over distance, which was necessary when sailing into fortified friendly harbours.
Nelson, apparently, used the same style for all vessels under his command. In his own words "to be distinguished with greater certainty in case of falling in with an enemy” After the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) the colour scheme became popular, and all vessels in the Royal Navy generally sported this pattern, though it was not mandatory and some captains changed it.
Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, was painted with in these colours with the yellow stripes showing along the level of the gunports in Chatham while on a 1800 refit. In spite of Nelson's desire to distinguish vessels by means of this unique colouring, it was also found among vessels of other navies, including some ships of the United States Navy. Towards the end of the Napoleonic War a trend started to substitute white for yellow. This became popular with the US Navy in particular and they used it during the War of 1812.
- Dazzle camouflage, twentieth century naval paint schemes
- Invasion stripes, Second World War aircraft identification pattern
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