Flag Etiquette

Flag etiquette is a maritime tradition that has been handed down over hundreds of years of sailors and other mariners. Despite often not being appropriately respected, correct flag etiquette is still a sign of a seasoned sailer and is considered good seamanship. If you don’t understand flag etiquette it’s easy to cause offence or even get a healthy fine through the incorrect use of an flag!

What is an ensign?

An ensign is a flag flown to indicate the vessels nationality [place of registration]. Flown from the stern of the vessel, the red ensign is the most common type of British flag. The British Ensign is to be flown under the following circumstances:

  1. Between 0800 and sunset during summer months [if crewed].
  2. Between 0900 and sunset during winter months [if crewed].
  3. When the ship is dressed.
  4. In foreign waters during daylight hours.
  5. When alongside in a foreign port, day or night.

The red ensign is the national flag of the United Kingdom Shipping Register. All British registered ships are entitled to ware the red ensign.

All British vessels, excluding fishing vessels, must wear the Red Ensign or other proper national colours when requested to do so by one of Her Majesty’s vessels and when arriving or departing a foreign port.

The Red Ensign is the correct courtesy flag for all foreign vessels visiting UK territorial waters.

Flag etiquette
Red Ensign
Red Ensign
Vessel flying the red ensign

Varients of Ensign

We have three variants of colour. This would be the Red Ensign, Blue Ensign and White Ensign. As previously discussed, the Red Ensign represents British vessels on the UK Shipping Registrar.

Flag etiquette
Red Ensign

The Blue ensign includes vessels associated with the Royal Naval Reserve [RNR], Royal Fleet Auxiliary [RFA], Royal Research Ships and in come circumstances merchant vessels or fishing vessels in the service of a public office.

In addition to this, masters are able to be issued with Blue Ensigns if they are a member of a yacht club which fulfils the conditions governing the issue and use of special ensigns.

Blue Ensign
Blue Ensign

Lastly, we have the White ensign. Originally created to be easily identified in battle, the white ensign is still used by the military today. The Royal Yacht Squadron is the only yacht club with a warrant to wear a white ensign.

White Ensign
White Ensign

The Club Burgee

The club burgee is a flag controlled by it’s yacht club and often is defaced with a symbol relating to the history of the club. If a member is part of a club which has a warrant to fly a blue or white Ensign then they fly the two flags on their vessel.

With the Ensign off the stern and the burgee flown either from the starboard spreaders or masthead [depending on your rig].

Royal Yacht Squadron Burgee
Royal Yacht Squadron Burgee

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