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.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.