The Flag Advisor
Flag etiquette can be
arcane and boggling. We surveyed Chapman’s
Piloting and our flag maker for guidance and came up with
some general recommendations for boaters:
and National Flags
As a gesture of courtesy,
cruisers should fly a foreign nation’s flag when they enter and operate in its
No. 1—There are no real rules. Customs
observed in various foreign waters differ from each other.
We’ve seen cases where not flying or flying a courtesy flag
improperly causes some awkward moments; you may be regarded as impolite, but
nothing more. In others, it’s
local law to fly the flag. Officials
can—and do—impound passports or assess fines until the proper
flag—which, of course, can only be purchased locally at great expense—is
flying on board. If in doubt,
inquire of other cruisers and observe other craft from your country for
not fly a courtesy flag until your vessel is properly cleared by customs and
immigration. Until clearance is complete, fly the yellow Q
a mastless powerboat, the courtesy flag replaces any flag that is normally
flown at the bow.
a powerboat has a mast with spreaders, the courtesy flag is flown at the
a two-masted powerboat, the courtesy flag displaces any flag normally flown
at the forward spreader.
a sailboat, the courtesy flag is flown at the starboard spreader.
If the sailboat has more than one mast, the courtesy flag is flown
from the starboard spreader of the forward mast.
flags are usually Civil Ensigns—not the national flag of the
country. Not every country has
a civil ensign. However, most former British colonies do; it is usually
the red variant of the flag. It’s
considered a horrible breach of etiquette to fly the blue national flag.
So, if the flag that we catalog doesn’t look exactly like the
national flag that you remember, it’s probably a civil ensign.
fly a foreign courtesy flag after you return to U. S. waters.
It may show that you’ve
’been there,’ but it’s not proper etiquette.
the vessel’s national flag is flown from the stern (or leach) when a
courtesy flag displaces it.
better form for U. S. vessels to fly the U. S. flag (the “stars and
stripes” with a full complement of 50 stars) at the stern or gaff or
leech, rather than a Yacht Ensign. If
you want to fly a Yacht or USPS Ensign, do so from the port spreader on a
sailboat. If there are multiple
flag halyards available on the starboard spreader, the Yacht or USPS Ensign
is flown there, inboard from the courtesy ensign.
citizen of any state may fly the flag of that state unless doing so is
specifically prohibited. It
should be flown at the main masthead in place of any private, yacht club, or
officer’s flag. On a mastless
boat, a state flag flies from either the bow or radio antenna.
flag—state, heritage, Confederate, pirate, gag, or otherwise—except for
the vessel’s national flag, should EVER fly from the stern of your vessel.
This is considered a place of honor, for the vessel’s national flag
and no other.
Chapman’s recommends the
flag at the stern of your boat—U. S. Ensign, Yacht Ensign, USPS Ensign, or
vessel’s national flag—should be one inch on the fly for every foot of
overall vessel length (e. g. 48” flag for a 48’ foot vessel).
flags—club burgees, private signals, or courtesy flags—should be ½”
for every foot of overall vessel length.
Christine Davis differs
with a somewhat more practical approach. She
suggest that you let your eye be your guide.
Generally, yachts up to 50’ in length look properly “dressed” with
a 16” x 24” ensign and 12” x 18” courtesy flags.
Size up one step for every 25-or-so additional feet in length.
If you prefer the look of larger flags, go ahead—just make sure that
there is a clear 360-degree fly from your halyards.
Otherwise, your flags will soon be in tatters.
There are a number of flags
that once were used on large yachts with professional crews (such as owner
absent, cocktail, meal, etc.). Others
are still common:
Flags. There are two flags
flown by diving operations: a
red flag with a single diagonal stripe of white and International Code Flag
“A”. It is generally no proper to fly dive flags on shore.
Flag. International Code Flag “Q” is flown when entering a
foreign port (except Canada and a few others) or when returning to a U. S.
port from a foreign cruise. It
signals to customs and immigration officials that you request clearance.
Take it down and replace it with a courtesy flag after formalities
Jack. A rectangular blue flag
with 50 stars, the Union Jack may be flown as follows:
only at the jack staff—the bow staff on modern craft
only during the day
only when moored
only on Sundays, national holidays, or when dressing ship
On national holidays, at
regattas, and on other special occasions, yachts often “dress ship,”
displaying a decorative collection of International Code signal flags.
The following conventions are recommended:
ship at 0800 and keep dress until nightfall.
the dressed ship moored, except for its maiden or final voyages or for
participation in parades.
the Ensign at the stern. Display
the Union Jack (if desired) at the bow.
a rainbow of International Code Flags from the waterline forward to the
waterline aft from stem (or bowsprit) to the masthead(s).
on flags and pennants alternately. Since
there are twice as many letter as numeral pennants, it is regarded as good
practice to follow the following sequence:
flags, one pennant, two flags, one pennant, and so on
popular example with an appealing color pattern is (from forward):
AB2, UJ1, KE3, GH6, IV5, FL4, DM7, PO Third Repeater, RN First
Repeater, ST Zero, CX9, WQ8, ZY Second Repeater.
Consult web page notes for
signal flag set coverage.