Last modified: 2019-11-11 by rob raeside
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(extracted from North Wales Cruising Club website)
British Yachts fly the National Maritime Flag (The Red Ensign) as their Ensign unless their Club is privileged to wear a special Ensign. A Club not currently holding the privilege; uses the Red Ensign.
Ensigns should be flown in a prominent position, normally at a staff on the stern. They may be flown when under sail by Gaff Rigged Yachts at the peak of the sail on the after mast, by Yawls and Ketches at the mizzen masthead and by others at a position two thirds of the way up the leach of the aft sail.
The Ensign should be worn when entering or leaving harbour and must be worn when entering or leaving a foreign port. It is normally worn in harbour when the crew are on board but need not be worn at sea except when meeting another vessel or coming close to the land. Yachts that are racing do not wear Ensigns.
In harbour, the Ensign should be hoisted at 0800 in Summer and at 0900 between 1 November and 14 February. It should be lowered at 2100 or sunset whichever is the earlier or when the crew go ashore if before that time.
Ensigns should not be left flying overnight in harbour.
Yachts should only fly one Club Burgee at a time irrespective of the number of Clubs for which they hold membership.
Club Burgees should be flown from a staff at the masthead or alternatively, if this is not possible, from the starboard spreader in home waters and from the port spreader abroad.
The Burgee should be flown at the same times as the Ensign in harbour although in recent years it has become common practice to leave the Burgee flying at night if the owner is either onboard or ashore in the vicinity. This practice is acceptable. At sea the burgee is normally flown in sight of land or other vessels.
Members Club Burgees should be flown in any yacht chartered by them in preference to that of the charter company or owner.
Flag Officers’ Flags
These flags are flown by day and night while the owner is either onboard or in effective control of the vessel. They are flown in place of the burgee.
It is customary in foreign ports to fly a miniature version of the National Maritime Ensign as a courtesy flag at the starboard spreaders. Only one courtesy flag should normally be flown.
Courtesy flags should only be flown above (superior to) any other flags on the same halyard.
Local Flags should not be flown in lieu of courtesy flags but can be flown at the port spreader in addition to them. Within the British Isles, courtesy flags are not strictly necessary.
The flags of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm may however be flown at the starboard spreader, out of politeness.
Some owners and organisations have private flags. These may be flown in harbour at the port spreader. Such flags should only be flown at the same time as Ensigns and Burgees.
It is customary for yachts to salute both warships of all nations and flag officers of their own Club.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 10 Oct 2019
The answer is yes, as far as British practice is concerned.
A warrant for a special ensign is issued to a named person for a named boat; the two go together. If the owner lends or charters his boat to someone else, they may not fly the special ensign. If the person borrowing or chartering the boat is also a member of the same club, a temporary warrant to fly the special ensign may be issued, but only if the other member is British.
If the person named on the warrant is also a member of another yacht club, he ought not to fly the special ensign on the named boat if he is flying the burgee of the other club. The special ensign and the burgee should match. This has not been specified in the warrant regulations because it is appreciated that there might be circumstances in which it is not appropriate. One example given in explaining this was of an owner entitled to a special ensign who was also a member of a Belgian yacht club. Whenever he visited the Belgian club he flew the special ensign, but as a courtesy, flew the burgee of the Belgian club. He should more correctly have flown the undefaced Red Ensign, but special ensigns have prestige which owners are reluctant to relinquish, even temporarily.
British yacht club special ensigns can be the White Ensign (Royal Yacht Squadron), undefaced Blue Ensign (32 clubs), Blue Ensign defaced with the badge of the club (57) or Red Ensign defaced (14). There is also a defaced RAF Ensign for the RAF Sailing Association, but I don't know where that fits into the pecking order.
Royal Naval Reserve Blue Ensigns on merchant ships were similar. Named master for named ship. Originally when the master took command of another ship he had to re-apply for a new warrant, but this was changed so that he could carry over the warrant, but only if the ship was owned by the same shipping company. He had to inform the Admiralty of the change, and there had to be enough naval reservists in the crew of the new ship to qualify. I would be surprised if there are any merchant ships that still fly the Blue Ensign.
David Prothero, 9 February 2000
In 1922, according to Perrin (Page 139), there were 42 clubs entitled to fly the
Blue Ensign "either plain or defaced", with 8 being "allowed to deface the Red
Ensign with their particular badge". A total of 53 including the Royal Yacht
Christopher Southworth, 5 November 2003
It all depends how you count them, and how you define a British yacht club.
There are 104 clubs in the
Navy List. If you add the RAF Sailing Association
there are 105, but only 77 are in the United Kingdom. Of the 105 ensigns 27 are
plain Blue, three Blue Ensigns have the same badge, as do two Red Ensigns, which
makes 76 different ensigns. I don't agree with Perrin's figures. In 1922 I
reckon there were 34 clubs with plain Blue Ensigns, 30 with defaced Blue
Ensigns, and 8 with defaced Red Ensigns. The list of yacht clubs having a
special ensign is on pages 244 - 247 of the Navy List at
David Prothero, 11 November 2003
I think that I have found out why my figures for yacht clubs with special
ensigns in 1922 don't match Perrin's figures. Mine was a grand total; Perrin
appears not to have included Dominion clubs. The first warrants were issued in
1829. In 1840 2 clubs had plain Blue Ensigns, 1 had a defaced Red Ensign, and 8
had various forms of White Ensign.
Approximate figures after that -
1850. 5 Blue, 8 defaced Blue, 2 defaced Red, 2 White.
1860. 8 Blue, 10 defaced Blue, 2 defaced Red, 1 White and thereafter.
1870. 9 Blue, 12 defaced Blue, 3 defaced Red.
1880. 13 Blue, 18 defaced Blue, 6 defaced Red.
1890. 17 Blue, 22 defaced Blue, 6 defaced Red.
1900. 22 Blue, 28 defaced Blue, 7 defaced Red.
1910. 33 Blue, 28 defaced Blue, 8 defaced Red.
1920. 33 Blue, 30 defaced Blue, 8 defaced Red.
1930. 37 Blue, 32 defaced Blue, 6 defaced Red.
1940. 32 Blue, 42 defaced Blue, 7 defaced Red.
1950. 32 Blue, 45 defaced Blue, 8 defaced Red.
1960. 33 Blue, 51 defaced Blue, 11 defaced Red.
1970. 34 Blue, 49 defaced Blue, 12 defaced Red.
1980. 31 Blue, 55 defaced Blue, 12 defaced Red.
1990. 31 Blue, 55 defaced Blue, 12 defaced Red, 1 defaced RAF.
2000. 30 Blue, 55 defaced Blue, 12 defaced Red, 1 defaced RAF.
David Prothero, 13 November 2003
British Yacht Club Special Ensigns have, in total, been granted to 108 clubs in
the British Isles, and 49 clubs in other parts of the world. In the British
Isles 30 clubs have had Blue ensigns, 53 defaced Blue Ensigns, including 3
defaced on the Union, 18 defaced Red Ensigns, including 4 defaced on the Union,
5 defaced White Ensigns, one a White Ensign, one a White Ensign with no overall
cross, and one defaced a RAF Ensign. The number of different designs is 78.
Three clubs have had the same defacement on the Union of their defaced Blue
Ensign, and three other clubs have had the same defacement on the Union of their
defaced Red Ensign. Although two clubs have had three different ensigns, and six
clubs have had two different ensigns, in four cases one of the ensigns was Blue,
in two cases the defacement of the Union of their Blue Ensign was the same, and
in two other cases the defacement of the Union of their Red Ensign was the same.
Twenty overseas clubs have had Blue Ensigns, 29 defaced Blue Ensigns, 2 defaced Red Ensigns, and one a White Ensign. The number of different ensigns is 33. One club has had three different ensigns. Another club, two different ensigns, but one was Blue.
David Prothero, 4 August 2014
By Section 4 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, it is an offence to hoist on
board any ship or boat belonging to any British subject certain colours, flags
and pendants without a Permit from Her Majesty the Queen or from the Secretary
of State for Defence. The maximum penalty is one thousand pounds for each
offence. Among the prohibited flags are the Union Flag, the White Ensign, the
Blue Ensign (plain or defaced) and the Red Ensign with any defacement. The
prohibition applies to any ship or boat belonging to any British Subject
wherever it may be, and so extends not only to tidal waters but equally to
rivers, lakes and inland waters generally.
Yachts may not wear the special Ensigns prohibited above except:
David Prothero, 11 January 2006
Who assigns an ensign defacement to a yacht club?
Normally the yacht club applying for the special ensign supplies a picture, or at least a textual description, of what they would like on the ensign and burgee. This is then checked for suitability before the warrant is drawn up and sent up through the chain of command for approval. The design of the burgee usually already exists but as it forms part of a ship's colours it also needs a suitability check. I don't think it has ever happened that the club hasn't known what it wants, but if it did it would probably be passed to me, as advisor, to come up with something.
Graham Bartram, 23 May 2007
Historically the defacement has been the existing badge of the club, but on
at least three occasions the badge used on the ensign had to be modified before
the Admiralty would grant a special ensign. In 1950 the Cruising Association
wanted a foul anchor, but had to settle for a clear anchor. Similarly the St
Helier Yacht Club, after a four year struggle to have, at first a foul anchor,
and then a naval crown, agreed, in 1952, to have a clear anchor with two crossed
axes. In both cases the clubs did not include the clear anchor in the badge on
their burgee. Also in 1950, the House of Lords Yacht Club were not allowed to
have a portcullis surmounted by a coronet as this was considered to be too
similar to the badge on the Customs Blue Ensign. On the ensign the badge is a
clear anchor surmounted by a coronet but on the burgee it is a portcullis
surmounted by a coronet.
A yacht club that applied for, and was granted, the title "Royal" would not automatically be granted a special ensign. The two things are entirely separate, and the club would have to make a separate application for the ensign.
David Prothero, 23 May 2007
Originally it was, as far as I
have been able to establish, the choice of the club. In 1927 it was decided that
since a plain Blue Ensign was the ensign of the Royal Naval Reserve, no more
would be authorised for yacht clubs. In fact three more were authorised, but
only for Service clubs; Royal Naval Sailing Association in 1936, Royal Naval
Volunteer Reserve YC in 1958 and Royal Marines Sailing Club in 1965.
There is an unwritten pecking-order based, it would seem, on heraldic principles, that a yacht club with a plain Blue Ensign ranks above a club with a defaced Blue Ensign, which in turn ranks above a club with a defaced Red Ensign; but this was not the view of the Admiralty. When the Royal Dee YC had its warrant withdrawn in 1928 because it had too few yachts, it offered to change from a defaced Blue to a defaced Red Ensign if this would enable it to retain a special ensign. The Admiralty replied that, "the standard required before a yacht club can be authorised to fly a special ensign is the same whether the ensign be the Blue Ensign, the defaced Blue Ensign, or the defaced Red Ensign."
David Prothero, 16 November 2002
On the website of a yacht club (I forgot which) I read that the ensign was
undefaced if the club was already "Royal".
Bryan-Kinns Merrick, 15 November 2002
Yacht clubs do not have royal charters. It is simply a title which they are
permitted to use, as a prefix to the name of the club. In the latter part of the
19th century some clubs that wanted a special ensign, would apply to the Home
Office for the title 'royal', in the belief that possessing the title would
improve their chances of being granted an ensign. It actually worked the other
way round. Any requests for the 'royal' title received by the Home Office were
passed to the Admiralty with the question, "Does this club have a special
ensign, and if not, would one be granted if it applied?" If the Admiralty
replied, "No", and "Would not", the club's request was almost certain to be
David Prothero, 16 November 2002
image located by Jose C Alegria
An example of a light blue British yacht ensign, from the RAF Sailing Association from www.rafsa.org.uk
In many cases of which I am aware, it is entirely up to the club which form
of "British" royal crown they use on their ensign. For example, the
Royal Natal Yacht Club still uses their old
fashioned late 19th century Edwardian crown and have used it since the their
ensign was granted. There was no change made during the Tudor era. I'm not sure
if Scottish clubs would fall under different rules.
Clay Moss, 11 August 2008
In correspondence between yacht clubs and the Home Office and the Admiralty on this matter, I have never seen any reference to the style of crown that might, or should, be used. Also, as far as I know, no instruction telling yacht clubs that they should change the style of crown used in their badge has ever been issued.
"Warrants to yachts authorise the use on an ensign of the distinguishing
marks of the club but do not define them." From a 1927 Home Office minute.
[National Archives (PRO) HO 144/9413]
David Prothero, 12 August 2008
As far as I am aware (at least for the last 100 years or so), the type of
crown to be used 'officially' is defined by Royal Warrant (or Order in Council),
and civilian use generally follows any official change or type but is not
obliged to do so? The Scottish Crown is used officially in Scotland where the St
Edwards Crown would be used in England, Ireland or Wales, it naturally follows,
therefore, that (whilst not obliged to do so) the Royal
Forth Yacht Club would place the Scottish Crown on their ensign, and (for
Royal Corinthian would place the St Edwards.
It would, of course, be perfectly legal for a Yacht Club founded in say 1888 to continue to fly a burgee or ensign with the Imperial State Crown for the following 120 years, but perhaps unlikely. It may also be inferred that the authority issuing any such Warrant would assume (unless specifically stated to the contrary) use of the current pattern without actually saying so.
Christopher Southworth, 13 August 2008
I have never come across any regulation regarding flag size. A Royal Yachting Association 1969 booklet on flags make no reference to the matter. The following is the response from the commodore of a yacht club in the United States:
As far as the size of the Ensign is concerned, US yachting publications have long stated (and consistently stated) a "rule of thumb" for yachts, which generally seems to work for most yachts in use today. The rule is that the Ensign should be "one inch of fly for every foot of overall yacht length." Thus, a 30-foot yacht flies a 20 inch by 30 inch ensign, and so on. If a yacht is between the standard commercial sizes of flag, then the next size is used; i.e., round up to the next sized flag. Thus, a 34-foot yacht should fly a 24" x 36" ensign. Generally speaking, this rule seems to work well. And it is very widely quoted here, so much so that it is almost a part of flag etiquette.David Prothero, 1 May 2010
My only additions are as follows:
(1) It should kept in mind that this rule is one based on ensign length, and that given manufacturing conventions, American-made flags offer a greater number of flag sizes in the smaller ensigns than British-made ones:
USA flag size British Standard
12 x 18" --------- 1/2 yd. flag (24" x 12")
16" x 24" ---------1/2 yd. flag (do.)
20 x 30" --------- 2/3ds yd. or 3/4 yd.flag
24 x 36" --------- 1 yard flag (36" x 18")
30 x 48" --------- Some British concerns will offer a 1 1/4 yd. flag; otherwise 1 1/2 or 1 yd
36 x 60" --------- 1 1/2 yd. or perhaps 2 yd. flag
48 x 72" --------- 2 yd. flag
In short, the British commercial standard of selling flags by yards leads to larger gaps in sizes than does the American offerings. The 1 1/4 yard ensign (never seen outside a chandlery, and only rarely there) is an attempt to bridge this gap.
(2) Like any rule of thumb, the result must be checked against reality. Does the proposed ensign interfere with any equipment on deck, drag too near the water, and does it look right?
(3) Also, sailing yachts that fly the ensign from a gaff, or elsewhere up in the rigging (see note) -- as opposed to from a staff at the stern -- probably need a larger sized ensign. There is also the case of yachts with bowsprits and overhangs that give an inflated overall length, which means that exceptions will be made.
The rule of thumb generally seems to work, and is a great place to start. The part about "round up to the next size" should probably be discounted because (a) it is my observation that British yachts are a bit more understated in size of ensign than are US yachts, and (b) if one wanted to discard the 36" x 18" ensign, and "trade up" to the next available commercial size, he will be looking at a 1 1/2 yard ensign (54" x 27"), which is a very large 'jump up' indeed."
Note: Sailing yachts do
indeed sometimes fly their ensigns from the peak (of the gaff) or at the leech,
and a larger size is more appropriate in those circumstances, however, it should
also be borne in mind that they (at least in UK usage) must only do so whilst
underway and that the ensigns should be returned to a staff at the stern whilst
Christopher Southworth, 1 May 2010