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.