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Flag Etiquette

The Royal Engineer Yacht Club Which Flags should I fly? Guidance on Flag Etiquette.


All users of REYC yachts are to fly the correct Ensign and a Club Burgee, and REYC Members should fly the correct flags when sailing on their own and other yachts. Flying flags incorrectly can upset the traditionally minded, and in theory constitutes an offence under Section 4 of the Merchant Shipping Act and is liable to a fine. In practice it is unheard of for yachts in UK waters to be prosecuted for a flag offence, however flying flags incorrectly in foreign countries can not only cause offence but also lead to difficulties either when clearing in or clearing out, or when a yacht is approached by police or other maritime officials.


All REYC yachts should have both a Red and a Blue Ensign on board of the correct size. They should also carry an in-date Blue Ensign Permit.

Size Yachts between 21-27 ft should fly a ¾-yard ensign (680x340mm), those between 27-34 ft a 1-yard ensign (910x450mm), those between 35-42 ft a 1¼-yard ensign (1140x560mm) and those up to 50ft a 1½-yard ensign (1370x680mm).

Position. Ensigns should be flown on an Ensign Staff at the stern of the yacht. Particularly when at sea, yawls and ketches may fly their ensigns at the top of the mizzen mast, but see the note on Burgees below.

Red or Blue? On Club-owned yachts, if there is a Full, Honorary or Associate Member of the REYC on board, the yacht should fly the Blue Ensign. At any other time, even if the skipper is a member of another Blue Ensign Yacht Club, the Red Ensign must be flown.

When Flown:

At Sea. At sea, the ensign is normally flown constantly, though legally it only needs to be flown for the purpose of identification (ie if in sight of another vessel or land).

In Harbour. In harbour, the ensign should be raised at Sunrise (0800 local time or 0900 1 Nov 14 Feb) and lowered at Sunset (or 2100 local time even if the sun is still up). If in a naval port or a naval vessel is nearby, their timings should be followed.

Windy Conditions. In order to save wear and tear, in winds above F7 Club boats should remove their ensigns, burgees and other flags (except when racing).

Racing. When racing, the Ensign should be removed and a Class Flag flown from the 5 minute gun. The Ensign should be re-hoisted having finished or on retirement.

When on-board or nearby their own yachts, Full, Honorary and Associate REYC Members may fly a Blue Ensign provided they have an in-date Ensign Permit, available for a small fee from the Honorary Secretary. The Permit is for the yacht, and does not entitle a Member to fly a Blue Ensign on any other vessel. When used by other than the Owner, an owner's yacht is not entitled to fly the Blue Ensign.

Burgees. The REYC Burgee must always be flown by a Club-owned yacht, either on one of the spreaders or at the masthead (the latter is the most senior position). For Members' own yachts, when flying the Blue Ensign, the Club Burgee must also be flown, and particularly owners of Yawls and Ketches should note that the Burgee should be flown above the Ensign (ie, at the main-masthead if the Ensign is atop the mizzen-mast).

Special Flags. Flag Officers and holders of Special Flags may substitute their flags for the Burgee on the spreaders. Strictly speaking, it is preferable also to fly a Club Burgee at the masthead as well as the flag on the spreaders.

Courtesy Flags. An appropriate courtesy flag should be flown when in a foreign port or when in the vicinity of official vessels whilst in foreign waters. In practice, courtesy flags are normally flown at all times when within the territorial waters of another country. The courtesy flag should be flown in the senior position but not at the masthead, ie on the Starboard Spreader. If the Club Burgee is being flown on the Starboard Spreader, it must be moved to the Port Spreader when a courtesy flag is flown.

Q Flags. Flag Q should be flown when arriving into or from a foreign port that is (presently) outside the EU. Technically a Q Flag should also be flown if arriving in or from the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man directly from an EU Country, although this is virtually never done. When clearing into or from a foreign port, the Q Flag ought to be removed as soon as the yacht has been cleared in by Immigration Officials; technically no-one may go ashore until this has been done.

Dressing Overall. When dressing overall, the following is the normal order for stringing the International Code Flags (from Stemhead/Pulpit) Top of Mast(s) Stern/Pushpit). For a sloop:

(Pulpit) E, Q, P3, G, p8, Z, p4, W, p6, P, p1, I, AP, T, Y, B, X, 1st, H, 3rd (Masthead) (Masthead) D, F, 2nd, U, A, O, M, R, p2, J, pO, N, p9, K, p7, V, p5, L, C, S (Stern)

The official days for dressing overall are: Accession Day (6 Feb); Coronation Day (2 Jun); HM The Queen's Birthday (21 Apr); Commonwealth Day (2nd Mon in Mar); HM The Queen's Official Birthday (usually first Sat in Jun); and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh's Birthday (10 Jun). In practice, REYC yachts should dress overall if they are being used on the Queen's Official Birthday and the Duke of Edinburgh's Birthday (he is the Club's Patron), and members are asked to follow suit if on-board their own yachts. When abroad, yachts should follow local customs. Of course an owner or skipper can dress their yacht overall for any good reason.

Saluting. Members should salute warships of any nationality, and by custom the Club Flag Officers (ie any yacht that is flying a REYC Flag Officer's Flag), by dipping their ensign as they pass. When saluting, the ensign should be lowered 2/3 of the way down its staff and not re-hoisted until the vessel being saluted has acknowledged the salute by lowering and raising its ensign.

Unofficial Flags. In Port, House Flags may be flown from anywhere where it is convenient. Whilst it is not customary, when on REYC yachts members of other yacht clubs may wish to fly their own burgee below that of the REYC's. And if a foreign national is crewing on a Club yacht, they may wish to fly a small courtesy flag of their own nation on the port-hand spreader below the Club's Burgee.

Further Reading. More comprehensive guides to Flag Etiquette may be found in the following sources: 1. The RYA Flag Etiquette Book (C1/104 available free on line to RYA members) 2. Naval Flags an Ensigns A note by the Naval Staff Directorate (possibly available on MoDWeb or see: 3. Reeds Nautical Almanac

Last updated 12:22 on 2 April 2024

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