Flag etiquette may seem to be an old-fashioned concept, but even today there are guidelines for the proper display of flags aboard a boat. The purpose of the guidelines is to give each flag the respect it deserves by flying it in the proper position and to show respect for maritime traditions. The national flag (also called the ensign) of the country receives the place of honor: it may be flown on a stern staff on all boats, or two-thirds up the leech of the aftermost sail of a sailboat. In most countries, the correct national ensign is that of the country where the boat is registered, not the national flag of the skipper’s homeland, if it differs from the country of registry. The ensign should be in good condition; replace a faded or tattered flag. In some countries it is customary to display the ensign when the vessel is moored or at anchor only from 8:00 a.m. until sunset (or some particular evening time, such as 9:00 p.m.). Flags are flown continually when the vessel is underway. Where do you fly other flags, such as a yacht club or cruising club burgee, a courtesy ensign, or a “fun flag”? The website of the U.S. Power Squadron (www.usps.org) has guidelines for the proper display of flags on U.S.-registered vessels. The UK RYA (Royal Yachting Association, www.rya.org.uk) has a good booklet on “flag etiquette and visual signals” as they apply to both UK-registered vessels and vessels of other countries. The websites of boating organizations in other countries may have flag display guidelines for vessels registered in the particular country.
Recently I’ve been looking at the boating clothing people are wearing (it's been raining) and thinking about its visibility if someone fell overboard. In an April 12, 2012 post I commented on the desirability of wearing brightly-colored upper body clothing while aboard. What I am seeing rather frequently this summer is dark blue or black foul weather jackets with bright green hoods. OK, the hoods are visible when they are on the wearer’s head, but what if a person falls overboard and the hood blows off or fills with water and comes off? Maybe I’m making too much of this, but I’m happy when my crew wears bright colors on their entire upper body (and they look better in the photos, too.)
It’s a simple and important definition: a vessel is underway when it is NOT at anchor, aground, or made fast to the shore. Dragging anchor or drifting is underway; engine on or off doesn’t matter. When a vessel is underway the Navigation Rules apply. As soon as you lift the anchor out of the seabed (or it drags), or the boat starts floating after being aground, or you cast off the mooring or dock lines your boat is underway. Lots can happen before the boat is moving under control – you’re still bringing up the anchor, you need to turn hard to one side as the boat floats free from a shoal, you have to turn sharply as you leave a dock – the Navigation Rules apply if there is another vessel near you so that risk of collision may exist. Analyze the situation and vessel traffic near you before getting underway.
All skippers have their personal lists, but here are a dozen general things to do that will make you a welcome crew member or guest aboard a boat.
(1) At the time you are invited to go on out on the boat, ask the skipper what you should bring or not bring. That’s the best guide to help you pack.
(2) Pack lightly – bring as little as you can for the length of the trip, and put your gear in a soft duffle bag or cloth carrying bag.
(3) Wear non-marking rubber-soled shoes or boating shoes.
(4) Bring a small gift for the boat – non-perishable food, snacks, or soft drinks are usually welcome.
(5) Arrive at the boat at the time you were given or a little early. Call the skipper if you are unavoidably detained.
(6) Bring rainwear, even if it’s inexpensive plastic, if there’s a chance that it could rain.
(7) When you come aboard, ask the skipper what you can do to help before the boat departs.
(8) Be cheerful during the trip and show you are having a good time (even if you aren’t).
(9) Volunteer to help and ask what you can do.
(10) Don’t distract the skipper, the person at the helm, or other crew members during stressful times (docking and undocking, anchoring, dealing with nearby boat traffic, boat problems, sail changes, etc.). Try to do what you’ve been asked to do or stay quietly out of the way if you don't have a task.
(11) When you arrive at the destination or back home ask what you can do to help make the boat tidy; don’t just jump ship.
(12) If appropriate, offer to take the skipper (and first mate, if there is one) to lunch or dinner as a “thank you,” and so no one gets stuck in the galley upon arrival.
Please. Thank you. Good job! That was my fault, not yours. Is there anything you’d like to learn? Can I explain it more clearly? You did an outstanding job under those difficult conditions. Please don’t talk to me right now – I’m concentrating. Wasn’t that fun? (even if it really was not fun; irony may lighten the mood). Would you like to try steering for a while? Please help me keep a good lookout. Let’s try that again, please. I’m sorry I raised my voice – I was a little stressed. What can I do to help you be more comfortable aboard? I’ll cook.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.