Archive: Flag flying protocol for cruising on boats

Posted By on May 20, 2016

Read and email from an the other day and wanted to archive it as information/discussion when talking about "flag flying" protocol.


boat-flags>>> The Flag Advisor – 1 >>>

Nearly every cruising boat on the water flies one or more flags. But get into a discussion about flag etiquette and rules, and no one can seem to agree on the full set of what’s right and what’s wrong.

So we’ll take it on over the summer. We’ll research the generally accepted practices and bring a couple of topics into the discussion. Note that we’re going to present the findings for recreational boats. Military, government, or special use boats might well have different sets of rules and accepted practices.

For this first part, we’ll discuss the rules surrounding national and
courtesy flags, and flag sizes.

Courtesy and national flags

Rule 1. There are no real rules. There are customs and some flag
etiquette rules that have been adapted for boats. However, when visiting another country, make sure there are no laws about flying courtesy flags because boaters have been known to receive fines. It is often an insult to fly a courtesy flag of another country incorrectly.

2. A vessel’s national flag is flown from the stern.

3. If not prohibited, you can fly another location flag (state, province,territory) at the main masthead in place of any private, yacht club, or officer’s flag. On a mastless boat, a state flag flies from either the bow or radio antenna.

4. Only the national flag should be at the stern. It is considered a place of honor for the vessel’s national flag. Never put any other flag there.

5. Do not fly a courtesy flag (a small flag of the country you’re visiting) until your vessel has been properly cleared by customs and immigration. Until clearance is complete, fly the yellow Q (quarantine) flag.

6. On a powerboat without a mast, the courtesy flag replaces any flag that is normally flown at the bow.

7. On a powerboat with a mast and spreaders, the courtesy flag is flown at the starboard spreader. On a powerboat with two-masts, the courtesy flag is flown from the starboard spreader of the forward mast.

8. On a sailboat, the courtesy flag is flown at the starboard spreader. On sailboats with more than one mast, the courtesy flag is flown from the starboard spreader of the forward mast.

9. Don’t fly a foreign courtesy flag after you return to your home country.

Flag sizing

These are not well agreed upon. Chapman’s suggests the following:

1. The national flag at the stern of your boat should be one inch long for every foot of overall vessel length rounded up to a normally available size.

2. Other flags (club burgees, private signals, courtesy flags) should be one-half inch long for every foot of overall vessel length.

Another competing sizing suggests:

1. Boats up to 50 feet in length should use a 16 x 24 inch national flag and 12 x 18 inch courtesy flags.

2. For every 25 additional feet in length, increase the size by one standard size.


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