Flag Etiquette

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WorldFlag Etiquette

Although this may vary from country to country (always check the latest information for the country you are entering, which can be found linked on the List of Countries A to Z page), this is intended as a general guideline.


  • It is considered disrespectful and rude to fly a flag that is old, tattered or raggy. Make sure that you replace flags that do not do justice to the country you are visiting.
  • It is a common courtesy to fly the national flag(s) of your guest(s) on board, if they have a different nationality than the ensign is showing.
  • The usual rule that no flag should be flown higher than the national flag does not apply on board a ship: a flag flown at the stern is always in a superior position to a flag flown elsewhere on the ship, even if the latter is higher up.

Flags to be Flown When Entering Port

  • The national flag of the nation in which the ship is registered (the "ship's national flag").
  • The national flag of the nation which the ship is entering, as a courtesy flag. The courtesy flag is flown at the boat's starboard spreader, whether the ensign is at the stern staff, or flown from the leech. If there is more than one mast, the courtesy flag is flown from the starboard spreader of the forward mast.
  • Below the courtesy flag, one or more of the following flags as appropriate:
    • The Q flag (solid yellow), indicating that the ship requests "free pratique" of the port which is being entered, issued by a customs, quarantine or health officer.
    • The H flag (white and red), indicating that a pilot is on board.
    • The B flag (solid red, with a swallowtail), indicating that the ship is transporting hazardous goods.



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