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Right Size Ensign


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Greetings folks,

I'm putting a flag up on the rear of my boat. The boat is 37ft and according to one site I looked on it suggestesd the correct size ensign was 1 1/4 yd which I assume is 45" long. This seems pretty big to me. I'm worried it'll be touching the water !

I can buy a kit with a pole of 125cm so maybe it would be fine. Would you suggest this size or something a little smaller?

Thanks all

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Thanks for the replies folks. I'm not really bothered about legislation or anything but as I'm mail ordering the flag and pole I can't really  try it out for size and wondered if you agreed that the rule of thumb a 125cm and 11/4yd flag would be about right for me.

Thanks and sorry to ask what might seem to be such a vague question but a rough idea would be great.

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Ensigns are traditionally made of bunting, which is very hard wearing, when flapping in the wind. This was woven in 9 inch strips which were known as breadths.  So a flag a yard wide is said to be of 4 breadths. 


The ensign is the national colour of your vessel so it is whatever size is best to distinguish it from a distance to other vessels, which in the old days, might be at war with you!

I have read somewhere that the correct length for your ensign is one inch for every foot length of the yacht.  I think what really matters is the extent to which you wish to display your nationality with pride!

The red ensign dates back to about 1700 which is a lot older than the present day White Ensign of the Navy and used to have the banner of St George in the "hoist" long before the present day Union Flag, which incorporates the crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick.

In the 17th century the Navy was split into 3 squadrons, which were identified by a red, white or blue ensign.  Hence Nelson was known as an Admiral "of the Blue".  The Navy later always wore the white ensign in battle, including Trafalgar, as it avoided confusion with the French Tricolor.  When the present day white ensign (with the cross of St George) was introduced,  the blue ensign was accorded to auxiliary vessels and port establishments and the merchant navy were accorded the red ensign, since they had been wearing it for 100 years by then, anyway!

This is why the Navy also took to wearing the Union Flag in the forward rigging, to show that they were a warship, not a merchant ship and the union flag may still only be worn by warships, at the jack-staff when not under way.  Hence it has become known as the Union Jack.

I have an antagonist on this forum who will be waiting to pounce on me as soon as I mention anything to do with the sea but it is true that in theory, you have no need of your ensign in inland waters as you have already entered the country.  All the same, flag etiquette is a fascinating subject with hundreds of years of tradition going back to Tudor times and nowadays, we with our pleasure boats are about all that is left of the British Merchant Navy.

So why shouldn't we wear our colours with pride?


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Checked mine today on a 35' boat   -  36" x 18".  Seems about right! Always flown it and always will until I give up - always take it in when not on board and at dusk. By all means tell me its not big enough and I am doing it all wrong but it is probably 40 years old if its a day and still going!!!!  Been out at sea, gone foreign and now ending its days doing not a lot in my home county - bit like me, generally in retirement and a bit dirty and showing signs of age!!

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Interesting history Vaughan but factually incorrect.

5 hours ago, Vaughan said:

we with our pleasure boats are about all that is left of the British Merchant Navy

Shipping is a complex business but in 2020 the Red Ensign group. ( Those entitled to fly The Red Ensign) was the 10 th largest in the world with over 48 million DWT (Dead Weight Tonnes ) of ship registered on it. 

Yes I agree a shadow of itself in 1939 when it was the largest in the world but still a significant part of the World Tonnage. 

It is a Flag I have been proud to serve under for the vast majority of my 44 year seagoing career.

The Merchant Navy and it's armed relation The Royal Navy still forms a significant part of world maritime presence.

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10 hours ago, FlyingFortress said:

Interesting history Vaughan but factually incorrect.

I told you, didn't I?

My father was a commander in the Navy in the War and a founder member of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club before it, so flag etiquette for him, was vital, even for a yacht on Wroxham Broad. It is rather a question of maintaining standards, and the paying of compliments, by the correct positioning of flags and ensigns. As I said, it goes back hundreds of years.

I wrote an article on it a few years ago, which was published as a booklet in the River Cruiser magazine, to explain the origins and seniority of club flags, the history of a commodore's "broad pennant", the seniority (and defacing) of ensigns, and a lot of other things for those who were not sure what to "wear" and when.

I was thinking of posting it here on the forum but as you see, it is better I keep my head down.

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I am so sorry to have ruffled your feathers whilst trying to give a decent reply to the O.P.s question.

I am heartily sick of this.  A while ago now, I had a post removed when I was trying to defend myself from your constant flaming, as the mod team said they preferred to deal with it.

Well, as they say on military radios - "nothing heard, wait out".

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55 minutes ago, MauriceMynah said:

What is the correct way to dispose of the old one?

well you could try selling it as an antique, the green hue would make it a particularly rare item. a patina acquired in the steamy backwater tributaries of the chinese deltas.

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