Yacht etiquette (part 1)

  • Published on May 20, 2020

Etiquette for yachts, and other boats too for that matter, is a long, complicated and sometimes controversial subject. It affects many parts of the life on board and technical provisions made when building a yacht. We shall regularly come back to the subject as the Conservation Conversation evolves.

the week was quite busy for me, so today’s topic is a short one on technical provisions for showing the proper flags on board.

First, the ensign. It can fly either on a flagstaff at the taffrail, or at a gaff on the aftermost mast (which can be forward of midships if there is no other). If both options exist, tradition requires that the flag is transferred to the gaff as soon as the yacht gets underway (“underway” meaning neither moored, nor anchored, nor aground).

The proper size of the ensign used to be one inch of fly for every foot of waterline length. That could appear excessive for the larger boats.

A yacht should have at least one proper masthead position to fly a club burgee. That position should allow the flag to fly clear above everything else. If there is a triatic stay, or party lights, lines for dressing ship etc. the mast top should still be above and thin enough to allow proper setting. If it is not the case, burgees and “house flags” should be hoisted on a staff above the masthead.

A small hint for all the designers working on concepts for the next UK royal yacht: The royal yacht must have three masthead positions for ceremonial reasons, so basically three masts or smart alternatives.

Some yachts, mainly sailing yachts, have a fixed stick on top of their mast with the burgee permanently hoisted. This could be an issue that we shall illustrate when discussing flag etiquette, as the burgee could not be taken down easily without sending crew aloft (like for racing as required by the rules).

Other locations for flags are less critical. A starboard spreader halyard and a jack staff at the bow can be useful, and several other options too, but it is all depending on the yacht design, use and “ceremonial” requirements. Dressing ship will certainly be a consideration for any yacht that could be engaged in traditional events or ceremonies.

Is your yacht up to par?