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Flag Etiquette at Sea

Flags often cause confusion for with what to fly wear and at sea this becomes even more significant. Flags prove the base for many signals and message which are universally understood, as well as enabling other vessels to be aware of your vessel and nation. With so many flags to fly we’ve created a little bit of helpful information explaining…

What to fly where

Ensign or Burgee? Does the Special Ensign take precedence? Q Flags… House Flags? Confused? Here we will try and break down some of the regulations you should follow when flying any or all of these flags.

Ensign – The Ensign should be worn as close to the stern of the vessel as possible in the most senior position for a flag.  In the case of a UK registered vessel this would be the national maritime flag otherwise known as the Red Ensign (unless entitled to wear a special or privileged Ensign.)

Burgee – The burgee takes the second most senior position on the vessel, which is normally  the main masthead. Only one burgee may be flown on any vessel and no other flag should be flown above the burgee on the same halyard (flagpole rope).

Special or Privileged Ensign – Worn in accordance with the warrant and permit governing the flags use. If the warrant and permit requires the corresponding burgee must also be flown in accompaniment.

Courtesy Flag and Q Flag – The starboard spreaders are used for signalling. This is where both a national courtesy flag and the Q flag should be flown. You should not fly any other flag above a national courtesy flag on the same halyard.

House Flags – House flags are flown from the port spreaders. A house flag may indicate membership of an association or society or may be to indicate membership of another club. More than one house flag may be flown on the port halyard, but please be aware of their order of seniority.

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Written by...

Paul Noble

Paul Noble is the current Sales & Marketing Director of the Flagmakers Group. He oversees both teams and retains a hands-on customer-facing role.

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