Flag Etiquette at Sea
Ocean going vessels display flags for mainly three reasons – to display the nationality of the ship, to display the status assigned to them because of the services they offer, and to provide courtesy in accordance with the international rules and regulations. Whether you are sailing a ship, ferry, or a boat, the flag etiquettes at sea remains the same for all.
Some of the main flags that are used on ships are ensigns (flag with the colour of nationality), jacks (flags smaller than ensign used for signalling and distinction), house flags (flag of the owner or company), pennants (flags used by ships to signal that they are warranted by the Navy to be used as war ships), and signal and rank flags.
It is a general rule that all the flags should be raised at 8 a.m. in the morning, whether the ship is at port or at sea. According to the U.S rules for flag usage at sea, the ensign flag should be the first one to be hoisted in the morning at the stern of the ship. After that, the jack and house flag are to be hoisted at the bow and mainmast of the ship respectively.
There are rules that govern the position or the height of the flags as well. For example, the ensign flag that marks the nationality of the ship should be flown above all the other flags and the pennant should be flown above the house flag. However, the house flag, which was initially hoisted at the stern, is now flown at the starboard yardarm.