Merchant Shipping Acts have threatened heinous penalties for
misuse of our national flags but custom and practice is changing.
Correct flag etiquette is now considered a mark of form and
permits an additional pride of ownership of a vessel.
Ensign. British vessels wear a red ensign and never the
Union Flag. Properly, an ensign should only be flown without
a burgee when the owner of the vessel is not on board or "in
effective control" (recurring flag etiquette jargon,
taken to mean that the owner is in the vessel's vicinity - rather than
on holiday in Spain.) A special or defaced ensign may be
flown on the authority of an Admiralty warrant; usually
available, at cost, to registered vessels and only via the
relevant club. The defaced ensign should only be worn with
the burgee of the appropriate club at the mast head and
again only when the owner is in "effective control".
Burgee. An owner who is a member of more than one club should
fly the burgee of the club in whose the vessel is cruising at
the masthead. A second (or more) club burgees can be flown from
the starboard yardarm - if the particular club rules permit.
If the vessel is outside the home waters of any of the owners
clubs, then the flag and the ensign of the senior club should
The House Flag Owners may fly their house flag from the starboard yardarm (or from the port yardarm if the starboard is already in use). House flags are often used on the Broads as racing pennants. When racing, vessels traditionally signalled a retirement by lowering their racing flag. Today, raising an ensign is often used to signal retirement. This is an example of practice changing etiquette; an ensign should not be flown with a racing or house flag at the masthead, but many modern vessels have either no facility to lower their racing flag or simply no racing flag. Racing flags should properly only be flown at the masthead before, during and immediately after completion of a race
Officers. A Flag Officer's (usually) swallowtail burgee,
together with the appropriate ensign should be flown in preference
to any other burgee, in any waters. It is becoming an unofficial
tradition in some clubs for past commodores to fly a plain,
squared version of their club's burgee.
Jack may be flown from a staff on the bow (or beneath a
bowsprit), whilst registered vessels are at anchor.
Overall for private occasions - such as an Open regatta
day. Vessels dressed overall make a wonderful spectacle and add
to the atmosphere of any regatta. At the mast head the correct
burgee with an appropriate ensign should be worn; if the vessel
has two masts then it may fly a house flag at the mizzen truck.
There is no single correct order for code flags used in dressing
overall, but it is important to avoid any unintended signal
through a particular sequence of flags and desirable to evenly
spaced pennants. The order given here has been approved by the
Admiralty and will avoid any confusion:-
Bow to mast
head:- B, Q, U, 2nd Substitute, L, Numeral 8, T, P, Numeral
5, S, Numeral 9, X, Z, 3rd Substitute, R, Numeral 0, C, G, Answering
to stern W, Numeral 4, E, F, Numeral 7, N, Numeral 6, J, O,
Numeral 3, H, Numeral 2, Y, M, Numeral 1, K, 1st Substitute,
V, I, A.
On a national occasion, it becomes correct to fly an ensign at the masthead. If abroad it would be correct etiquette to fly that countryís ensign at the masthead, when dressed overall for its national occasion, but with our own ensign on the taffrail.