Nautical Flag Etiquette

1. Size

When choosing a U.S. Ensign (50 stars) or Yacht Ensign (anchor surrounded by a circle of stars) to fly at the stern of your boat, the common measurement should be one inch of fly for each foot of overall boat length.  For example, if your boat is 30’ you should choose a 20x30” flag. 

2. Registry

nautical flagThe national ensign worn by a vessel must be the flag of her registry, not necessarily that of the owner or operator.

3. Location

Preferably centered at the boat’s stern. If you have an outboard motor, the flagstaff may be offset to starboard (right side as you face the bow).  If a stern staff will interfere with gear, such as on a sport fishing boat, the common practice is to fly the ensign from a halyard rigged amidships on the after part of the superstructure.

4. U.S. vs. Yacht Ensign

The Yacht Ensign, having 13 stars and a fouled anchor, was originally a signal to identify documented vessels, but it is now flown on recreational boats of all types and sizes in domestic waters.  But the Yacht Ensign must never be flown in international or foreign waters since it has no standing as a national ensign.

5. U.S. Power Squadron

The USPS ensign has a red canton (field) with 13 stars and a fouled anchor.  The striped area contains thirteen VERTICAL blue and white stripes.  It is flown as a signal to others that the boat is commanded by an active USPS member.

6. Yacht club Burgee

Although most yacht club flags are triangular in shape, some are swallow-tailed with 2 points at the fly end.  It contains the unique design symbolic of the organization represented.  Most often, it is flown from a bow staff attached to the bow rail.

7. Officer Flag

Officer flags are blue, red, white, or yellow, and are rectangular or triangular.  These are flown by the Commodore, Vice Commodore, Rear Commodore, Past Commodore, Secretary, Treasurer, Fleet Captain, and other officers of a yacht club. 

8. Courtesy Flag

When visiting foreign waters, your boat should display a courtesy flag, such as when you visit Canada.  Do not fly a foreign courtesy flag after you have returned to U.S. waters.

These are just a few quick tips on nautical flag etiquette.

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