Yacht Flag Etiquette: How To Fly Flags on a Boat

Yacht Flag Etiquette: How To Fly Flags on a Boat

Long before phones and radios became the norm, boats of all shapes and sizes relied on flags to communicate with other boats and port authorities. Today, flags are obviously no longer the main method of communication for sailors, but they’re still important for any boat on the water. Given the history and significance of most flags, one must follow certain etiquette when flying them. We’ll go over some yacht flag etiquette and how to fly flags on boats so that you can avoid any unpleasant incidents.

The National Ensign

The national ensign is considered the most important flag to fly on a vessel. For the United States, the “stars and stripes” serves as the national ensign. This flag should fly the farthest aft of any other flag, as that is the position of honor. In most cases, the national ensign should also be the largest flag you fly aboard your vessel. Important things to remember about flying the national ensign include:

  • It shouldn’t be too big or small. The ideal size for the national ensign should be one inch of fly (or length) for each foot of boat length. The hoist should be two-thirds of the fly.
  • Only fly the American national ensign during daylight hours. 0800 hours is the earliest you can fly the national ensign, and you should take it down when the sun sets.
  • Positioning is important. You shouldn’t fly the national ensign at the top of the mast; rather, it should be in the furthest aft position that you can manage for your boat.
  • Always fly the national ensign in international waters.

The US Yacht Ensign

Many American yachts choose to fly the US yacht ensign instead of the national ensign. Originally, you needed a special license to fly the US yacht ensign, but nowadays, any vessel—whether professional or recreational—can fly the yacht ensign. You can fly either the yacht ensign or the national ensign, but never both at the same time.

Club Burgees

Many yacht and sailing clubs have their own burgees, which are pennant-shaped flags used to identify a vessel as part of that club. If you’re part of a yacht or sailing club, make sure you proudly fly your club’s burgee from your ship’s masthead. Burgees usually come with membership to one of these clubs.

Courtesy Flags

Another piece of important yacht flag etiquette you should know regards flying courtesy flags. If you enter another nation’s waters, it’s appropriate to fly their flag to show respect after the nation’s authorities have given you clearance. Flying the yellow Q flag first will signal that you’re seeking clearance from the authorities.

Part of good flag etiquette aboard a boat is keeping your flags in good condition. A yacht flagpole from Innovative Marine group can help you fly the right flags and show proper respect to them as well.

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