Thursday, March 24, 2005

Flag Etiquette

A few weeks ago I obtained a DCA burgee to replace the one that was sold with my 50/50 canoe. DCA burgees at the point of purchase are not attached to a staff, so it’s a matter of making your own – that’s if you want to fly one at the masthead. Well, after using a bit of aluminium piping and an old wire coat hanger to make a suitable flagstaff, I thought it would be a good idea to revise my scant knowledge of ‘Flag Etiquette’. Once into the subject I was amazed how much there was to learn.

My main source of information was the Internet, but all I really needed to know was found in Reads Nautical Almanac.

As my yacht, ‘Bumper’ has only one mast, the DCA burgee should be flown above the truck – that’s at the very top of the mast. This indicates I am a member of the Dinghy Cruising Association and that I am in charge of the yacht. Technically, if the ensign is taken down at night the burgee should also be removed.

I do have a rather posh ensign, which I call ‘The Red Duster’; some refer to it as ‘The Red Ensign. Its varnished flagstaff has a special mounting fitted to the taffrail. Before putting to sea I should fly the ensign as a signal signifying my boat is subject to British law. Sometimes I neglect this requirement of international law. It is not necessary to fly the ensign while in harbour, but those who elect to do so should hoist it at 0800 and lower it at 2100 each day during the summer months. While at sea outside of national waters there is no necessity for it to be flown, neither does it need to be flown at night.

Some years ago I used to fly a house flag at the starboard crosstrees, but unfortunately it became badly worn and disfigured with mildew. I was rather proud of this flag which displayed the Serjeant family crest which comprises a red dolphin on a white background above a span of twisted rope. Maybe I’ll get around to making another?

I own a few other flags, such as the yellow quaranteen or ‘Q’ flag; both the ‘N’ and the ‘C’ flags, which are used to indicate a boat is in distress or the crew requires assistance; the man overboard flag, letter ‘O’, and the national flags of France, Holland, Spain and Portugal. I also have the Cornish courtesy flag which is always appreciated by the locals.

If I owned all of the International Code of Signals flags I would be able to dress the ship on special occasions such bank holidays or the Queen’s Birthday. The correct order for displaying these flags from the bow should be E, Q, p3, G, p8, Z, p4, W, p6, P pl, I, Code, T, Y, B, X, 1st, H, 3rd, D, F, 2nd, U, A, O, M, R, p2, J p0, N, p9, K, P7, V, p5, L, C, S.

Some yachtsmen are finicky about the display of flags, and unfortunately a few petty officials in certain foreign ports can be unforgiving if the appropriate courtesy flag is not flown at the starboard crosstree. Therefore it’s not a bad idea for a skipper intending to go foreign to make sure he has the correct national flags for the countries he intends to visit.

As I shall shortly be cruising my yacht along the south coast of England to the Scilly Isles from Burnham-on-Crouch and back, my limited collection of flags should be more than sufficient.

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