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Valiente 04-12-2008 02:00 AM

Flag etiquette queries
My vessel is registered as Canadian. Private sailing vessels in Canada fly the national flag, the familiar red and white Maple Leaf at either the stern or from a pigstick run up to the masthead. Canada has no specific ensign for civilians, although were I a member of the Armed Forces, I might conceivably be able to fly those flags, which have a Maple Leaf as a canton in the same place as the Union Flag of Great Britain (the "Union JacK").

The Union Jack is not the national flag of Great Britain. It is the personal flag of the Queen. The usual flag flown by private British owned yachts is the Red Ensign, a plain red flag with the Union Jack in the upper left canton.

So here are my questions:

When flying a courtesy flag in British waters or territories, do I hoist up to the starboard spreader a Union Jack or a Red Ensign? Or would I be insufferably cheeky (and possibly inadvertently insulting) if I hoisted a St. George's Cross in English ports, a St. Andrew's in Scottish, a Welsh Red Dragon in Cardiff, and God knows what in Ulster?

Secondly, I hold dual British/Canadian citizenship. Can I fly the Red Ensign from the boat's stern, or is its status as a Canadian registered vessel render the owner's citizenship moot?

Thirdly, when I go to renew my British citizenship, I won't get the big old pasteboard British model, but the small, chic, red European Union one with "Britain" in brackets somewhere. Would I in any situation fly the EU "ring of stars" flag as a courtesy flag.

Lastly, does anyone run out the yellow "Q" flag anymore? When it comes to sextants, I'm the old traditionalist...but when it comes to flag signals, I can think of far better uses for the money and the space than to haul a signal flag locker around the world.

Thanks in advance for the replies, hopefully written from informed experience.

artbyjody 04-12-2008 04:31 AM

This link will answer some of your questions:

Yes, the Q flag is still required when transiting into and prior to be cleared by customs.

There is no "EU" flag as far as I know (I could be wrong) - one still must fly the courtesy flag of the individual country you are visiting.

Hope that helps.

T34C 04-12-2008 10:24 AM

I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but the national ensign should not be flown from a pig stick, but from a staff at the stern or the leach of the mainsail (or backstay) at a height equivalent to flying from the gaff.

As to what courtesy flag should be flown, since all counrties you listed are British commonwealth countries, I believe you would technically be correct in flying the Union Jack from the starboard spreader in all of them.

Faster 04-12-2008 10:33 AM

Can confirm that the yellow "Q" is still in use everywhere.

I believe the vessels registry determines the flag flown aft (not on a pigstick, as T34C pointed out - they are for YC burgees)

My guess would be Red Ensign rather than the Union Jack as a courtesy flag. Perhaps fly the others mentioned below the Red (or on port side?) if you are in those regions? Not sure about that either.

Boasun 04-12-2008 10:38 AM

"Chapman's Piloting & Seamanship" is a good source on flag etiquette for the yacht man. And it delves greatly into flying of the various flags.

Plumper 04-12-2008 11:12 AM

Here is what I found:
Hilary Mead, an Royal Navy Commander, referred to courtesy flags in an article in the October 4th 1951 issue of Shipbuilding and Shipping Record. He was generally critical of the section on flags in the then recently republished Admiralty Manual of Seamanship, and in particular of the assertion that the Red Ensign was the correct flag for a foreign merchant ship to fly as the courtesy flag in British waters. "What person in a position of authority is responsible for this dictum? The 'courtesy flag' is at best only a convention that has crept into its present rather pretentious position within the last few decades, and there is nothing to show that it is supported by any kind of authority." He went on to write that foreign ship-owners and masters could be excused for thinking that the Union Flag was the national colours of Great Britain and for using the emblem as a compliment to the country visited. "Questions have already arisen as to what steps are to be taken if a foreign vessel hoists the British Union Flag by way of compliment, and who is going to take such steps. And by what compulsion can the master of the foreign ship be made to haul down the flag?"
David Prothero, 22 October 2000

I would fly the red duster if I had one or the Union Jack if I didn't.

JohnRPollard 04-12-2008 11:49 AM

Americans have the added variable of flying the Yacht Ensign in domestic waters on documented vessels, but switching to the Stars&Stripes for foreign and international waters.

As for E.U., in the Med I often saw the European Union flag flown from the starboard spreader below the national courtesy flag. We didn't have one so we just went with the national courtesy flag.

Johnrb 04-12-2008 12:04 PM

Val: Have you spoken with the Millards about their long term European cruise? I believe Aubrey also carried a British passport in addition to his Canadian one so he may be able to answer any questions.
Veleda IV World Cruise

Idiens 04-12-2008 12:26 PM

It might be wise never to carry the Union flag on board. There's still some ancient laws about Royal Naval officers rights and duties to board you and remove it, if flown. The red duster is both the ensign and the courtesy flag for British waters.

That said, there is a growing European fashion for flying local flags. So in the UK, you might see a lot of variations on courtesy flags, even on British registered yachts in their own waters. However, see the RYA site for the real rules.

You see the European Union flag, (Blue with a ring of 12 stars), flown both as a courtesy flag and as an ensign - in this latter case with the national ensign in the corner. However, the rule is the yacht should fly the flag of its nation of registry and the EU is not a nation and you can't register a yacht as European. So the habit is wrong but I've not heard of anybody being arrested or fined for it.

So you answers:

1. Red ensign starboard spreader.
2. Canadian ensign
3. No
4. Yes - for a Canadian flagged yacht, but not for one registered in a EU state, unless it carries non-EU nationals, or has other customs and excise reasons for needing attention. In these latter cases, landfall only at a port of entry.

Valiente 04-12-2008 08:13 PM


Originally Posted by Johnrb (Post 299135)
Val: Have you spoken with the Millards about their long term European cruise? I believe Aubrey also carried a British passport in addition to his Canadian one so he may be able to answer any questions.
Veleda IV World Cruise

Good idea. Judy Millard was once my dentist...small world. Yes, I did forget that the pigstick is for the YC burgee, as, despite actually owning one, I never fly it up there. "Domestically", I fly the burgee on the starboard spreader flag halyard; were I to enter U.S. waters, I would fly the Stars and Stripes above this.

Thanks for the replies.

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