I am now at risk of hijacking this thread but I thought this was interesting regarding the Q flag. It is from a history of the use of the Q flag. What caught my attention was this particular section's date. It would be interesting to hear from a Canadian or a recent visitor to Canada about the procedures there in light of this:
The Canadian rules for the quarantine are prescribed in Memorandum D3-5-1, issued on 11 February 1998 in Ottawa by the Canada Border Service Agency:
15. Where a vessel arrives in Canada flying a yellow quarantine flag (infectious disease), the customs inspector will not conduct normal clearance procedures until advised by the appropriate health authority that it is safe to do so. Pending such notification, the customs inspector, with the help of the local police authority or the RCMP, as deemed appropriate, will endeavour to ensure that the vessel is maintained in a sterile condition pending cancellation of the health alert by the competent health authority.
Quarantine Regulations [C.R.C., c. 1368, Section 15]
I think the Canadian Border Service Agency needs to check the International Maritime Signal Flag book, which says you fly the "Q" flag to indicate the following:
Quebec - my vessel is healthy and I request free pratique
In days of yore, the Q flag was flown to request the health officials to visit the vessel and issue a "free pratique" meaning (according to Wikipedia):
Pratique is the license given to a ship to enter port on assurance from the captain to convince the authorities that she is free from contagious disease. The clearance granted is commonly referred to as Free Pratique.
A ship can signal a request for "Pratique" by flying a solid yellow square-shaped flag. This yellow flag is the Q flag in the set of International maritime signal flags.
Once the pratique was issued the Captain was free to go ashore and clear the vessel into the port, or the port officials were free to come aboard and do the same.
Now it's generally accepted meaning is that the vessel has not cleared customs and technically no one should approach or board the vessel until the vessel (and her stores / cargo) is cleared by local customs officials and all persons aboard are granted entry by immigration officials.
In some places you still need a clearance by health officials. For example, clearing into Costa Rica I had to first go the the office of the Port Captain (think Harbormaster), then Immigration, then Customs, then Health and Agriculture. Four different offices located in different parts of the town, four stamps -- and then you go back to the Port Captain and he tells you it's OK to tie up or anchor in this or that place. Then you're done and can go to the bar.
PS -- I was trying to think of something snarky to say about the people who live to the north of us getting things absolutely backwards, but it's late and I have to cook dinner.