Flag Etiquette For Harbormasters

by Claire Valenty on January 30, 2010

in Flag Etiquette

flad harbormaster etiquette

Flag Etiquette for Harbormasters follows the basic principles of flag etiquette, but, there is one important variation: we learned in flag flying etiquette that no other flag should be flown above the nation’s flag, either in height or on the same pole. This does not apply on a boat.

The ensign (the boat owner’s national flag) is flown from the stern, which is an honorable position on a ship; this is where the boat is steered from. The ensign is flown only when someone is onboard. No matter if another flag is higher, this ensign is the superior flag. The ensign should be hoisted at 8 am and lowered at 9 pm (or sunset, whichever is earlier) every day when the ship is in harbor. When a merchant ship passes a warship, etiquette requires the merchant ship to dip their ensigns in a salute (normally, a nation’s flag is never dipped to anyone). The warship will dip their flag in acknowledgment. If a vessel is in distress, they will fly their ensign upside down. Long gone are the days of pirates in most waterways, but, if you spied a boat back then with the ensigns of two different countries on top of each other on the same staff, that would indicate that the ship had been captured or surrendered during warfare. The ensign on top represents the nation of the ones who captured the vessel, with the ensign below reflecting the nationality of those that were captured.

After the ensign, there is the club burgee, representing your sailing club (if applicable). This is also flown only when someone is onboard and may be placed off of the main mast head or right under the ensign on your lower spreader on the starboard side.

When entering a foreign port, you must display a yellow quarantine flag. This declares that your boat and its occupants are healthy and that you want Customs clearance. Also, when visiting a foreign port, etiquette calls for your vessel to sport a courtesy flag (the national flag of the port you are visiting). It can not be flown lower than your ensign, as that would signal inferiority. So, if you have a club burgee flying, move that to the port side spreader and place the courtesy flag on the starboard side spreader.

If someone is scuba diving off of your boat, make sure you are displaying a white and blue flag (also known as the “A” alpha flag). This will warn others to keep away or to proceed slowly, so as not to injure the diver.

There are hundreds of other flags out there for nautical use which convey many messages; for more information on your area’s flag etiquette for harbormasters, check with your local yachting or sailing club.

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