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From the Boathouse: Flag rules: First, don't call it Old Glory


Flag Day is here, so I want to remind boaters that a little etiquette is in order. The procedures for flying the various types on flags on a boat are many, so I will briefly explain the display of the U.S. Ensign.

Once you board a vessel, you now refer to Old Glory as the U.S. Ensign. This flag is different from the U.S. Yacht Ensign, which has 13 stars encircling a fouled anchor. Vessels can display the Yacht Ensign in lieu of the U.S. Ensign only while in U.S. waters. Members of the United States Power Squadrons have the option also of displaying the USPS Ensign, which can replace either flag.

Proper etiquette dictates that the "colors are made" at 0800, and for you landlubbers, this means that you can fly your flag in the morning starting at 8 a.m. The flag is flown until sunset, though I have heard differing views on flying after dark.

A flag on land must be lighted when flown after dark, and a few think this relates to flags on vessels too. However, the references I read state that on a yacht, one can fly colors after dark or before sunrise if entering or leaving port. Also, to shine a light on a yacht's flag after dark is impractical and, when underway, can interfere with navigational lights or hamper night vision.

If you are at anchor or secured to the dock, then you can fly the ensign from your stern staff when someone is onboard. When underway, powerboats cruising in inland waters or in the ocean when passing another boat can continue flying from the stern staff unless outfitted with a mast and gaff. Sport fishers, when fishing, can move the flag to a halyard if there is a chance of damaging the flag or interfering with the activities.

Sailboats should fly the ensign from the stern staff when made fast, under power and following the English practice. No ensign should be displayed while racing. I see this mistake during yacht races.

It is safe to fly the ensign from the stern in today's modern practices, but tradition states that when under sail, fly the ensign one-third down the leech of the aftermost sail, usually the leech of the main as in Marconi rigs. If the sailboat's aft sail is gaffed, then move the ensign all the way up the leech to just below the gaff.

Once you cruise outside U.S. waters, you may only display the U.S. Ensign, not the Yacht Ensign or the USPS Ensign. It is courtesy and, in some nations, the law when cruising a foreign nation's waters to fly the flag of that nation along with your nation's flag.

Lastly, always remember to hoist the U.S. flag first and lower it after all other flags.

While I have briefly explained yachting flag etiquette, there are exceptions, plus separate procedures for pennants, burgees, government flags, armed services flags, yachting flags and Power Squadron and Coast Guard Auxiliary flags.

Tip of the week is I predict that we will have nice coastal weather with daytime temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s. The skies will hopefully clear by the afternoon, but clouds could linger along the coast. We will have the patchy morning fog for the early boaters who probably are going fishing.

The daytime air temperatures will be a little on the chilly side for swimming, with thermometers reaching in the high 60s and maybe to 70 on Father's Day. Nighttime, the temperatures will dip about 10 degrees to the high 50s, and the patchy fog will develop in the early morning hours.

The swells will continue to be a mixed set with the 3-foot west south swell and only a 1-foot south swell. Expect double-digit intervals between the swells, so whale watching can be on your float plan.

The afternoon winds are expected to be westerlies at 5 to 10 knots, and the winds will create 1- to 2-foot wind waves.

As always, just keep an eye to the weather for any changes. Please be boat smart and boat safe. Lastly, please boat responsibly and look behind you before you turn the wheel at the helm.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting live coast-to-coast on syndicated network. See times at, and

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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