Boat Flag Etiquette

May 1, 2013  

It seems nautical traditions and nomenclature are

disappearing as fast as new technologies are appearing !

  Generations of mariners have created and followed a code of identifying and decorating their boats that reflects “proper” maritime tradition. Observing flag etiquette will allow you to display your colors with pride.    The Ensign The ensign is the US flag, either the standard 50 stars and stripes version ( a la Betsy Ross) or the nautical version with a fouled anchor over a circle of 13 stars. Domestically, either is correct, however if you plan to venture offshore only the 50 star version will do, as it is the national flag. ensign   Placement of the ensign is critical. Generally it is flown from a place of honor, the stern staff, a stern gaff, or at the back of the house or structure of the boat. Never from the spreaders or masthead of a sailboat or on the bow of a runabout.  Never fly state, pirate, gag or private flags from the stern staff.  It can be off center if required (preferably to starboard) and should be sized at one inch of length per foot of boat. (Err on the long side). us-flag-flying The ensign should be hoisted at 8:00 AM and doused at sunset. Nautical tradition followed at many yacht clubs, marinas and navy bases dictate that all people stop what they are doing and stand at attention while the flag is raised or lowered and a cannon is fired. Typically the ranking officer will yell “colors” to initiate he sequence and “as you were” following. The ensign should be lowered and stowed when you are not onboard.  Note:  The flag is only "struck" to signal surrender in battle.

The Club Burgee

 The club burgee should be hoisted at the masthead of sail and power vessels or on the bow of runabouts.  Nautical Flags 1 Fun and Courtesy Flags These flags traditionally fly from the starboard spreader or starboard radio antenna. Domestically this is where the fun flags will fly (Ball & Chain = wife onboard,  pirate, cocktail flags, cruising association, etc).  Off shore this is where the yellow “Q” (quarantine) flag will fly and also the courtesy flag of the nation you are visiting.  As a side note, some authorities are not amused at all if you fly their courtesy flag using an old, ratty flag. Some will even fine you for disrespect!   

 fun flags 2

For more information and nautical etiquette consult your copy of Chapman’s or see these websites:   USPS  Official Navy Guide        Captain Rick Delfosse pirate-the-time-flies-when-you-are-having-fun-358b  

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