Do you understand flag etiquette?

25 Aug

Courtesy flags

Flag etiquette rules aren’t required as a cruiser, but you should know the basics to avoid embarrassing yourself or offending others. Beyond that is up to you, but there’s a whole language to flags that is interesting to learn. As a fan of flag etiquette.  I like to think I know a few things about flags, but I learned so much from this great infographic that reader John Tissot of the East Freemantle Yacht Club emailed!

Eleven years ago this month, we sailed with a group of fellow Seattle Yacht Club members on an organized cruise. It was our first time clearing into another country, and we were so excited to use our snappy new Canadian courtesy flag when we cleared in at Ganges. Imagine our dismay when a few hours later, a patient sailor pointed out that in our haste, we had hoisted it…upside down. An international sign of distress, although in our case the distress followed the flag instead of vice versa!

Normally, we love flying flags on Totem: courtesy flags are always up as cruisers, we’re proud to fly an ensign, and we enjoy others as well, from burgees to flags of local significance. If we weren’t in such an uninteresting spot at the moment, I’d get a glamor shot of the pretty new American flag now off Totem’s transom. This “Battle Tough” flag look sharp, and will be taking us though some big miles in the next year.

Thank you John for sending this infographic! Take a look, see what you know, and what you can learn. I predict this will spawen sundowner hour quizzes around here later…

Flag Etiquette Infographic

Courteous readers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.


  1. TrueBlue

    The graphic shows a warship, so I assume these rules are meant to apply equally to them. In fact, the national ensign is flown 24/7 by US warships while underway. Colors are only struck while in port from sunset to 0800 local.

  2. Christel Astin

    Great insight, and a much needed read for us all who sail. We had an idea to make a house flag, used as a “play-recess” flag indicating to other cruiser families on anchor that homeschooling has come to a close for the day, and it’s time to play. Saves on VHF usage. Thanks again from us all aboard S/V Catherine

  3. Pingback: Do you understand flag etiquette? | Sailing Totem

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