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Flag etiquette for Royal Yacht Clubs is not as well known or observed as it should be. The protocol under which the Squadron and its members should abide, is dictated by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and the Royal Yachting Association.
The correct Sea Flags are grouped under various categories; - special ensigns; ensigns; to a lesser degree burgees all of which a vessel wears; and International Code; personal racing; advertising and house flags which a vessel flies.

SPECIAL ENSIGN: - The Blue Ensign is the principal maritime ensign of the Squadron; it consists of a plain dark blue field with Union Jack in the canton and takes precedence over all other flags. It was issued to the Squadron agreeable to a Warrant dated 27th day March 1924, by the Admiralty. This Warrant does not in itself entitle a member to ëwearí the ensign on board his or her yacht. Before one can legally do so, the owner must obtain a personal Warrant for that particular yacht through the Secretary of the Squadron. By Admiralty direction any Squadron owned vessel with a Flag Officer on board and engaged in official duties is automatically entitled to wear the Blue Ensign.

ENSIGNS: - The Australian National Flag (Blue) takes precedence over the remaining ensigns displayed in Australia. It consists of a dark blue field displaying the Union Jack in the canton, a white seven-pointed Commonwealth star beneath and the five stars of the Southern Cross in white in the fly. This is principally a land flag, although there is no government direction that it should not be displayed on water. The RAN displays it at the jack-staff (bow) when in port, the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard displays it on land and at sea and it is the ensign displayed by Australian yachts competing at international and Olympic yachting events; accordingly it is the one adopted by the Squadron.

Red Ensign: - The Australian Navigation Act, Section 406 designates the Australian Red Ensign (the Australian national ensign with red field instead of blue) as the ensign to be worn by all Merchant vessels registered under the Merchant Shipping Act, and by them alone. As yachts are not registered under the Shipping Act, they are excluded from the necessity to ìwearî the Red Ensign. Strictly speaking (and contrary to all beliefs), the Red Ensign should be worn continually by day or night when at sea, which is the practice in the Merchant Navy.

Victoria State Ensign: - This ensign, principally a land flag, is the Blue Ensign defaced with the five stars of the Southern Cross in white in the fly, above which is a St Edward's crown.

White Ensign: - The Ensign of the Royal Australian Navy. This is a special navy ensign - not to be displayed under any circumstances unless by the RAN. It is similar in design to the National Ensign with the exception it has a white field and blue stars.

Burgee: - Though strictly not an ensign it is the distinguishing maritime flag of the Squadron and must be displayed as such. Its shape is triangular with flag officers burgees swallow-tailed.

Secondary Flags: - The remaining flags flown are: - International Code; house; racing and advertising flags all of which are left to the discretion of the individual owner, however special conditions do apply.

Protocol dictates that one cannot display a flag indiscriminately; there are certain restrictions for each and every one. For this reason the Blue Ensign is principally a Sea Flag; it can only be displayed accompanied by the Squadron burgee when the registered owner is on board. Unless a separate Warrant has been granted at no time shall the Blue Ensign by displayed with Burgee of another yacht. Club. A special dispensation has been granted to display the Blue Ensign on the foreshore clubhouses when accompanied by the Burgee, however without special permission from the Admiralty it must not be displayed anywhere else on shore. Another dispensation permits it to be displayed along with the Squadron burgee over the left chest upon plain white or navy blue clothing in a manner both are on staffs diagonally crossed at 90 degrees, the ensign to the left when facing and so as not to make the ensign inferior, its staff must cross over that of the burgee. Immediately a yacht is sold, the holder of a Warrant must surrender that Warrant, as it does not carry on to the new owner or another yacht. The prime position of honour for any ensign on a yacht is on a staff at the stern or substituted 2/3rds up the distance of the backstay or aftermost leech, or at the peak of the aftermost gaff on a gaff rigged yacht. At all times when hoisting an ensign, it should be hoisted first followed by the burgee and lowered last. When away cruising it is mandatory that a yacht raises its ensign at 0800 hours and strikes it at sunset. If saluted by another vessel the ensign to be slowly lowered 1/3rd its distance down then raised to its peak. It is customary to display on the starboard rigging the flag of the country visited during the stay and when leaving. Before a race on completion or retiring, the appropriate ensign accompanied by the burgee should be displayed. Note: - In the case of ensigns no two ensigns are to be worn from the same position.

The Australian National Ensign displayed alone at a meeting should be positioned flat against the wall, above and behind the speaker with its Union Jack to the Left. If on a staff on a platform it should be on the speakerís right as he/she faces the audience. An ensign should never be used for the unveiling of a monument, plaque or any other similar function. In turn it should be displayed on a staff near the article with its Union Jack to the left of the audience.

MOURNING: - The ensign displayed should be worn at half-mast in respect to a death, usually on the day of the funeral. It should always be headed to its peak, then slowly lowered 1/3rd distance down (so termed half-mast). It should again be slowly hoisted to its peak before being hauled down for the day. Note: - The burgee shall not at any time be half-masted. Anzac Day, April 25 : the ensign to be worn at half-mast until noon, at the masthead until sunset. Remembrance Day, November 11 : the ensign to be worn at the peak from 0800 hours to 1030 hours, at half-mast from 1030 hours until 1103 hours and a t the peak from 1103 hours for the remainder of the day. The flying of the Australian National Ensign upside down at a signal of distress is recognisable, however it is not accepted practice as many countries national flags are reversible. When an ensign becomes dilapidated and no longer serviceable it should be destroyed in a dignified manner by burning privately.

BURGEE: - The Squadron burgee is strictly a maritime flag - so much so that in the past members have been expelled for displaying it on land, however it is permissible for it to be displayed over the left chest with staff to the left when facing, on ëwhiteí or ënavy blueí clothing or privately displayed on an inside wall in a room. The prime position to display the burgee on a yacht is from the mast, masthead or lower starboard rigging, in a manner it does not make the ensign inferior. It is considered etiquette if a yacht is approaching another yacht club where her owner is a member and the yacht is also on the register, for the Squadron burgee to be replaced by that of the approaching club. No Flag Officerís burgee shall replace the Squadron burgee on any Squadron vessel unless such Officer is on board, and the Squadron burgee run up in its place immediately the Officer leaves the vessel. When two or more Flag Officers of the Squadron and on board the same vessel the burgee of the most senior should be displayed. When displaying a burgee alone on a staff or on a wire on a wall its hoist must be to the left. If used to cover a coffin at a funeral its white star should be positioned over the left shoulder of the deceased.

House, racing, advertising and International Code flags: - with the exception of class racing flags on the lower backstay, the remaining flags must not contravene Appendix G of the Racing Rules of Sailing (1997-2000). There is no other restriction as to size, colour, design or shape, other than they must not resemble any existing design or contravene any regulation and they are flown from the forestay, port rigging or backstay in a manner they so as not make the ensign or burgee inferior. Dressing Ship : Yachts and the Clubhouse may be dressed ëOverallí to celebrate regattas or special occasions. This consists of stringing the flags of the International Code from stemhead to masthead, from masthead to masthead (where the yacht has more than one mast) and thence to the stern. Ensigns, burgees and private flags should not be used in dressing lines, and technically yachts should not be dressed when under way.

Other items of protocol of interest include: - The Squadronís colours of Red and White were registered in September 1907. As it is an unregistered design, the Squadron crest may be displayed freely. The gold Crown and Anchor lapel badges are strictly for wearing upon Full Dress Uniform (Dinner Suit) at formal functions.

Compiled from: - Flag Etiquette, Gerald Stambroke Sturgess; Yacht Flags and Ensigns, Capt E.M.C. Barracough, RN; Our Flag and How To Fly It, A.H. Smout; Brownís Signalling; Australian Volunteer Coast Guard; Cruising, Peter Heaton; State Library (Victoria); RMYS Archives.

J.H. (Bert) Ferris - RMYS Club Historian



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