Q&A: Which Ensign?

Question: I liked the beautiful twilight photo of your boat in Hare Bay, Newfoundland in this month’s Cruising World, and I showed it to a friend who’s been reading a manual on marine flag etiquette. He asked me what flag you’re flying on the backstay…and if the boat is an American registered boat from the US east coast, why the flag looks like a British naval ensign instead of an American flag.

I suggested maybe the boat is registered in Bermuda and so the flag on the backstay is a Bermuda ensign. He bet me a beer…could you help us by explaining the flag?

Answer: Looks like you win a beer! We are from Bermuda, one of the last of the British Crown Colonies, and the flag is a ‘defaced red ensign’. A plain red ensign is flown by British merchant navy ships. The ensign we fly is the flag of Bermuda, which is a red ensign defaced with the Bermuda coat of arms on the fly.

I wish I could tell you that the flag was hauled down immediately after the photo was taken, but to be honest Phyllis and are not really very good at the whole flag etiquette thing. The exception is that we are always careful to fly the flag of a country we are visiting (courtesy flag) at the starboard spreader, figuring that it is the least we can do as guests in the country.

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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