Posted by: Dan Sprague | March 16, 2012

Flags for boats

I like to have a flag on my boat when we go out.  Hoisting a flag just celebrates you are going out in some way. After my Dad got his first boat, I spent all my allowance on a flag for the boat. I do not think my Dad was all that happy I did that because he then had to get a flag pole for the boat so we could put it up. Both my sister and brother thought it was great, so Dad just got a flag pole and mount for it. I got the job of crawling out on the bow to put it on and take it off. I thought that was neat.  It was a little blue pennant with a yellow fish on it.

pennants and burgees

Pennants and burgees can add fun to your boating.

A Vessel’s colors are the flag that flies to indicate its nationality. An Ensign is a flag that denotes the nationality of a vessel or its owner, or it can denote the membership of its owner in an organization. A yacht club flag is not an Ensign.

A Burgee is a triangular, rectangular, or swallow-tailed flag that denotes a yacht club. A Pennant is a flag that is for decorative purposes.

Signal Flags are a set of flags that represent the alphabet and are used for visual communication.

The anatomy of a flag: The hoist of a flag is the vertical side and the inner side where it is attached. The fly is the horizontal length of the flag from the hoist to the free end of the flag.

There are no laws governing the flying of flags on a noncommercial vessel, but there are customs that have been established.

One custom that has evolved is the flying the national ensign from the stern of a sailboat underway. I like this one.

It is not considered proper to fly more than one flag on a single hoist. If a multiple hoist is necessary, the more senior flags are flown above the others. By tradition, if there is more than one hoist on the starboard spreader, the senior flag goes on the outboard hoist.

Squadron Burgee’s and Yacht Club Burgee’s are usually flown on the Bow staff, Mast head or foremost Masthead.

Dressing Ship: On national holidays, regattas and special occasions a vessel or yacht can use signal flags to “dress Ship”. Club burgee’s and national flags are not used. There is a recommended sequence for the flags and there are guidelines for the vessel when it is “dressed”.

Chapman’s has a full chapter on the regulations for flags. There are a number of “matter of courtesy” rules and guide lines dealing with flags. If you are going to fly specific Ensigns or Burgee’s find out if there are flying rules for them.  Use good taste when flying decorative Pennants and celebrate going out on the water.


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