Sailing Flags

Sailing Flags

We have a huge range of flags and flag accessories. Our range includes UV resistant Courtesy flags in 100% woven polyester that are essential when in "foreign waters", Signal code flags for relaying important messages, Red Ensigns available as...


We have a huge range of flags and flag accessories. Our range includes UV resistant Courtesy flags in 100% woven polyester that are essential when in "foreign waters", Signal code flags for relaying important messages, Red Ensigns available as lighter printed flags or traditional sewn flags, flag accessories (including wooden toggles, ingfield clips and lanyard blocks), flag staffs and flag staff fittings.

Courtesy Flag Etiquette

As a gesture of courtesy, yachts should fly a foreign nation's flag when they enter and operate in its waters.

There are no universal rules governing courtesy flag etiquette.

Officials interpret the rules differently from country to country, region to region, island to island or even port to port.
Failing to fly a courtesy flag or flying a courtesy flag improperly may only be considered impolite in some places but in others where it is enforced by local law, officials go as far as impounding passports or imposing fines until the proper flag (which may only be available to purchase locally at great expense) is flying on board.
Flying an undersized, faded or tatty courtesy flag may be considered worse than having no courtesy flag at all in some places.
If you are in any doubt, the best thing to do is observe other yachts from your country and even ask them for guidance.

Traditionally and logically, you should not fly a courtesy flag until your vessel is properly cleared by customs and immigration.
Until clearance is complete, you should only fly the yellow Q (quarantine) flag.
This is because you have not officially entered the new country until you are cleared through customs.
However, it is common practice, and generally speaking, courteously accepted in many countries, to hoist the courtesy flag above the Q flag in anticipation of clearing customs and immigration. 

On a yacht without any mast, the courtesy flag (or Q) should be flown at the bow.
On a mast with spreaders, the courtesy flag (or Q) should be flown at the starboard spreader.

In recent years yacht owners have been a little more adventurous in their approach to courtesy flag etiquette especially in relation to individual countries, Crown Dependencies and other islands within the United Kingdom including regional and even county flags.
If you are flying the local flag in the right spirit i.e. as a matter of courtesy then you are unlikely to cause offence.
Some locals may be particular whether it is the correct maritime ensign or the land flag but in general it is the effort made to be courteous which is important.

Courtesy Flags

The burgee should take the next most senior position on a yacht which is at the main masthead.
Only one burgee should be flown on a yacht.
Burgees are now commonly flown at the starboard spreaders. However, no other flag should be flown above the burgee on the same halyard.
You should not fly a burgee above a national courtesy flag on the same halyard.
Therefore if you choose to fly your burgee at the starboard spreader you will have a dilemma in ‘foreign waters'.
This could be obviated by reeving a second flag halyard to the starboard spreader but is not strictly following flag etiquette.

It may be considered polite or even proper to fly a regional or island courtesy flag e.g. in the Channel Isles there are individual courtesy flags for each island.
There is nothing wrong with endearing yourself to the local sailors, fishermen and officials. It's also entering into the spirit of the 'courtesy' tradition

If the region or island flag is in ‘foreign waters' then it should be flown below the National Courtesy flag e.g. Brittany under France.
There may be some local exceptions to this rule e.g. Display Azores flag over Portugal flag, Canary Isles over Spain, Madeira over Portugal, Galapagos over Ecuador.
We advise you to seek local advice.
Simultaneously flying all the courtesy flags of the different countries/islands that you intend to visit on your cruise should be avoided because your intentions could easily be misinterpreted and cause offence.

If the yacht has more than one mast, the courtesy flag should be flown from the starboard spreader of the forward mast.

N.B. Only ever your own ensign or national flag should be flown from the stern of a yacht.

If you want to fly your regional or county flag or even your cruising club flag e.g. Cornwall, Devon, the ARC World Cruising Club then it's probably best to hoist these on the port spreader to avoid any confusion with your courtesy flag(s). This is becoming much more prevalent, is generally done in good spirit, and as such, should hopefully not cause offence

The Netherlands Antilles Courtesy Flag may cover St. Maarten, Statia (St. Eustatius), Saba, and Bonaire.
The French Courtesy Flag may cover St. Martin, St. Barts, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Society Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Nouméa.
The Chile Courtesy Flag may cover Easter Island.
We advise you to seek local advice.

Sizing Flags

Generally, yachts up to about 50 feet in length look properly "dressed" with half yard (18" x 12") courtesy flags.
There is an old rule of thumb for courtesy flags: a half inch on the fly for every foot of overall vessel length e.g. 18 inches = ½ yard for a 36-foot yacht.

Selecting the appropriate size for your Ensign:

  • The Yard Size refers to the outside diagonal measurement e.g. from the top corner of the hoist to the bottom corner of the fly end.
  • The fly is measured along the horizontal length, top or bottom.
  • The hoist is measured down the vertical length of the left hand side next to the staff.
  • The Fly end is the opposite end to the hoist = the end that flies in the breeze.

As a guide, your Ensign should be proportionate to the LOA and the style/design of the yacht.
There is an old rule of thumb: an inch per foot of yacht length but this may look rather too small for modern yachts to look "well dressed".

The Ensign hoist measurement also needs to be compatible with the length of the flagstaff.
i.e. The length of the flagstaff between the truck (head) and the cleat must be, at the very least, greater than the hoist measurement so that there is sufficient room to tension the hoist line or halyard.
The gap between the bottom of the hoist and the cleat is a matter of personal choice.

A more modern interpretation of suitable Red Ensign yard size is suggested in the chart below but....

Ultimately, the size of a Red Ensign is entirely up to the owner's discretion and if it looks right then it is right.

Flag Size Chart

Yard SizeFinish FlyHoistStaff LengthYacht LOA
1/2Printed48cm32cm60cm< 7m
 3/4Printed or Sewn69cm40cm60/80cm6-9m
1Printed or Sewn90cm45cm80/100cm9-12m
1 1/4Printed or Sewn104cm56cm90/120cm10-14m
1 1/2Printed or Sewn132cm70cm100/125cm12-16m
2 1/2Sewn225cm110cm> 1.5 metres18m-20m
3Sewn274cm137cm> 2 metres>20m

Guide Reference:
Yard Size = traditional method of measurement = length of the diagonal
Finish = Sewn = individual panels stitched together to complete the flag
Fly = nominal length, may vary slightly due to the nature of the production/sewing process
Hoist = nominal height, may vary slightly due to the nature of the production/sewing process
Staff Length = the length overall of the flagstaff, not the measurement between truck and cleat which will be less
LOA = Yacht length overall

Printed or Sewn ?

Printed courtesy flags are generally acceptable everywhere you may visit. Sewn courtesy flags may well prove to be far too expensive on an extended voyage. Printed courtesy flags are lighter and therefore fly better in a light breeze.

However there are two distinct schools of thought regarding your Red Ensign (or national flag) and either is acceptable.

  1. Printed - is less than half the cost and ‘will soon be blown out anyway'.
  2. Sewn - is the only proper flag to fly and will last a bit longer.


Land flags

The Union flag, the Welsh Dragon and the Crosses of St Andrew, St George and St Patrick are primarily land flags and should not be flown at sea by cruising yachtsmen.
At sea the cross of St George is the flag of an Admiral and should therefore not be flown by anyone else, without special dispensation.
The St Andrew flag could be mistaken for the code flag M signalling "my vessel is stopped and making no way through the water".
The St Patrick flag could be mistaken for the code flag V signalling  "I require assistance".

Dressing Ship

On special occasions, yachts often "dress overall," displaying a decorative collection of International Signal Code flags.
Convention suggests that you bend on flags and pennants alternately. There are twice as many letters as numeral pennants, so a possible sequence would be: Two flags, one pennant, two flags, one pennant, and so on e.g. from stem to stern
AB2, UJ1, KE3, GH6, IV5, FL4, DM7, PO Third Substitute, RN First Substitute, ST Zero, CX9, WQ8, ZY Second Substitute.
E, Q, 3, G, 8, Z, 4, W, 6, P, 1, I, Answer Pennant, T, Y ,B, X, 1st Substitute, H, 3rd Substitute, D, F, 2nd Substitute, U, A, O, M, R, 2, J, 0, N, 9, K, 7, V, 5, L, C, S.

To select the size of your signal code flag set for dressing overall, add the individual hoist measurement to the average gap between the flags e.g. 12" x 8" would be an 8 inch hoist + say a 4 inch gap = 12 inches and multiply by 40 = 40 feet length overall.  ½ yard would be 12 inch hoist + say a 6 inch gap = 18 inches and multiply by 40 = 60 feet length overall.
You can minimise the overall length by having a very small gap between each flag.
The maximum length overall is therefore limited by the length of cord sewn into the fly known as the distance line.
Some Signal Code Flag Sets have flags made with a loop at the top and a distance line with a toggle at the bottom. While this requires no knots, the disadvantage is that the overall length is predetermined and may not suit the dimensions of your yacht and rig.

Signal Code Flags

Jimmy Green Quality and Construction

Jimmy Green Sailing Flags are screen printed in a modern factory in Europe on top quality UV resistant (for reduced fading) 100% polyester woven bunting.
Printed polyester courtesy flags are lighter, size for size than traditional sewn flags and will therefore fly better in a light breeze. This also helps to explain why sewn flags seem to last longer – they don’t fly (flap) as much as printed flags.
Jimmy Green Sewn Ensigns are sewn together using the same top quality UV resistant 100% woven polyester .

All Jimmy Green flags have a braided distance line on the hoist with a loop sewn in at the top and a trailing line at the bottom.

Wooden Toggles and Inglefield Clips