Ensigns – Red, White or Blue?

Ensigns but which one?

Last week I noticed our Ensign was looking decidedly tatty. I am going to have to replace it as a tatty ensign is considered a disrespect to  the country.

We fly the Ensign to indicate nationality. The most senior position for a flag on a vessel is reserved for the Ensign and this is as close to the stern of the vessel as possible.  Almost all countries fly their national flag but not Britain though, we never fly the Union Jack off the back of a boat. It’s a serious faux pas and will get you talked about in very unsavoury tones.

Britain flies either a red, blue or white ensign and woe betide you if you get that wrong too. It’s enough to get the yacht club commodore steaming at the ears and spluttering into his gin.
British ensigns currently in use can be classified into five categories, in descending order of exclusivity:

  • the White
  • the Blue
  • the Blue  defaced
  • the Red defaced
  • the Red

White Ensign

white ensigns
white ensign


Since 1864 the use of the White Ensign  has been restricted to ships, boats, submarines and on-shore establishments of the Royal Navy. The Royal Yacht Squadron also fly the white ensign by special dispensation.

If you see one of these in the Marina you are in the company of very posh people or you are moored along side a war ship. In which case get the hell out of there as you are only allowed to get 100o yards close before they have the right to shoot at you!

Blue Ensign

blue ensigns
blue ensign

Most of us aspire to fly the  blue flag commonly found on the backs of ‘Smug” yacht owners. This is because members of Royal Yacht Clubs are allowed the privilege to fly a blue ensign via a  warrant issued by Her Maj. Several yacht clubs are also entitled to fly blue ensigns defaced by their club badge.  They are even more smug!
red ensign
red ensign


As you have probably guessed everyone else  and his wife gets to fly the red ensign. The red ensign  is for the use of all other British merchant navy ships and private craft. The Red Ensign must also be worn  as a courtesy flag by  Johnny Foreigner private vessels entering United Kingdom waters.

Word of warning though, irrespective of which colour you have , it’s never left to fly all night. If you are alongside or at anchor the ensign should be raised and lowered at 0800 hrs and sunset except in summer when the sunset is  after 2100 hrs then ceremony should take place at 2100. And if you don’t, that yacht club commodore will be more than spluttering in his gin, he will be apoplectic.

Sea Toilets – Why do they smell so bad?

If you think I am obsessed with sea toilets, you are right, I am. Read my last post and you will understand why.

Why do sea toilets smell so bad and stink the boat out especially when she’s been left for a week or two? And as we all know, the longer you are away from the boat, the worse it gets.

Its all so embarrassing.

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. You invite your friends for a weekend on the boat ­ they arrive full of expectation ­ but as you unlock the cabin door, everybody recoils at the smell!

Truth is that nobody’s really worked out why it happens. Until now!

Everybody thought it’s what goes into the toilet that causes the problem. Fact is that it’s the water you’re flushing the toilet with that’s the main problem!

Sea or river water is full of living organisms, like, algae, plankton, microscopic bacteria, etc.
When these organisms go into the inlet pipe of a marine toilet they’re starved of oxygen and light, so they die and decompose.

That’s the smell!

Even if you flush with fresh water you can have the same bacterial problems in the  hoses and still end up with a smelly marine toilet because of smelly  hoses running through the bilges. Trouble is that marine  hose is porous and minute bacteria can actually penetrate the structure of the hose itself.

So how to combat this with out resorting  than a shed load of environmental unfriendly chemicals? One piece advice I was given was to use bog standard fabric conditioner – yes you heard that right.

The conditioner prevents solids from sticking as much to the tank and lines.

Don’t ask me why But it does seem to work. Thank god for Comfort


Holding Tanks. The trials and tribulations.

Holding tanks stink! In more ways than one.

Those of you who have lived in a house with a cess tank will understand exactly where I am coming from.

When you buy a boat you get a handover just like buying a new car. This is make sure you know where all the seacocks are and how everything works. On our JESSICA handover we were shown the mysteries of our sea toilet and holding tank. We were told that the tank was empty  and that the tank was closed off and we were pumping  straight out into the sea. Before you all scream about the environment, this is allowed in some places. Never eat fish caught in a Marina!!!

However, never trust a sales man. A month into using JESSICA we noticed that she had a slight list to the starboard (right) side and when we used the toilet there was a bit of a pong. We had no idea just how critical this was.

Stinky Goo.

The smell got worse and worse.  Roger described it as “chewy”. Meanwhile I had shares in Airwick air fresheners!!

We tried everything to fix it. Bottle loads of bleach and disinfectant down the head (just how good is that for the marine environment?) and loads of flushing – all to no avail. In fact the list to starboard increased.


Finally we discovered that the holding tank was full to dangerous overload. level. It holds 80 litres of black waste and in 3 weekends there was no way we had filled it so  that meant we were carrying a tank full of the previous owners poo. Bear in mind that before we bought the boat she had been in a marina for 6 months not being used. It was fermenting right under our noses.


We made an emergency dash for the nearest pump out station situated in the next door marina. “Just in time” management does not even begin to describe how close to an environmental disaster we were.

Nor am I going to attempt to describe the gungy sticky goo that we pumped out. It was a full bio-suit hazard looking for somewhere to happen.

Normality resumed. The starboard list was resolved and although I can’t say everything smelt of roses , it was a million times better than before.