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Wearing The Blue

Picture of David Mead

by David Mead, Royal Southern Yacht Club, Rear Commodore Sailing (2004 - 2006)

Wearing the Blue Ensign is restricted to yachts whose owners are members of yacht clubs who have been granted a General Warrant and are privileged to wear the undefaced Blue Ensign.

Picture of a RSrnYC Burgee

This has been retained and the current legal basis is the General Warrant of 8th February 1985. The Blue Ensign is part of the yacht’s uniform and as such should be worn with pride and, more to the point, correctly. Therefore, the rules governing the wearing of the ensign should be observed as a discipline reflecting pride in the club. Also it should not be forgotten that these are legal obligations under Ministry of Defence Regulations and there is a maximum penalty of £1,000 for the improper use of special ensigns.

Ensign and Burgee

Picture of an Ensign and Burgee

Uniformity in the size of burgee and ensign is important but limited discretion is allowed. The Club secretary or sailing office can give advice on the appropriate sizes for the yacht. Flags should be in good condition and replacements can be obtained from your Club Secretary.

Before wearing the Blue Ensign the owner of the yacht must obtain a permit from the Club Secretary. To be eligible for a permit the yacht must be registered under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 or be on the Small Ships Register and be seven metres or more in overall length.


The Ensign may only be worn by the permit holder for the yacht when in effective command (or on board if a professional captain is in command) and must be accompanied by the Club burgee or flag officer’s pennant as appropriate. The burgee or flag officer’s pennant should be in position when the ensign is raised and lowered. A yacht lent or chartered by a member of the club may not wear a Blue Ensign unless that member has obtained a charterer’s permit.

Members of more than one yacht club entitled to wear a special ensign, who wish to wear other colours, must obtain a separate permit for each ensign which will be worn. Each ensign must be accompanied by the respective yacht club’s burgee or flag officer’s pennant. A yacht should not fly more than one burgee. When an owner is visiting a harbour of which they are a member of a local yacht club their boat should wear the colours of the senior club of which they are a member. This also applies when in the yacht’s home port.

The only exceptions to this are that a flag officer of a yacht club shall wear the colours of that club wherever the yacht may be and on club regatta days the members of that club shall wear its colours, regardless, if they are in its port. Yachts may not wear a special ensign whilst racing or under racing orders and must hoist the club burgee or flag officer’s pennant, whichever is applicable, before hoisting the Blue Ensign, again only if the permit holder(s) is on board.


From 15 February to 31 October the Ensign should be worn between 0800 and sunset or 2100, whichever is the earlier and between 1st November and 14th February it should be worn from 0900 to 1800 or sunset whichever is the earlier. The only exception being that the Ensign shall be worn continuously by day and night when at sea.

The Ensign must never be worn if the permit holder is not aboard.

Where on the yacht?

Picture of Yachts correctly wearing the Blue Ensign and flying a Club Burgee

Generally an ensign should be worn from its own staff at the stern of the yacht. There are exceptions for sailing yachts with overhanging booms, when at sea. A single masted gaff rig should wear the Ensign at the peak of the gaff. A gaff schooner, ketch or yawl should wear the Ensign at the peak of the aftermost gaff and a Bermuda schooner; ketch or yawl should wear the ensign two thirds up the leach of the aftermost sail.

Burgees and flag officer’s pennants should be flown from the main masthead and it is a rule of some senior yacht clubs that this is done. Senior yacht clubs should endeavour to adopt this principle and every effort should be made to do so. For a boat with no mast the burgee may be flown on a staff in the bow. If, exceptionally, a sailing boat cannot arrange for the burgee to be flown at the masthead, then it should be immediately below the starboard spreader. When abroad the courtesy ensign for that country should be worn at the starboard spreader or yardarm.

Consequently, a yacht unable to wear a burgee at the masthead shall do so from the port spreader or yardarm to allow the courtesy ensign to be worn on the starboard side. If you are unable to wear a Blue Ensign correctly, use the Red Ensign, which should always be on board, in the appropriate position.

Good flag practice reflects on the Club’s reputation as well as reflecting pride in your yacht and good seamanship.

RYA members can obtain more detailed information from  this RYA link.
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