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What is the need to hoist flags on board ships

Flags hoist on board ships to identify the country in which the vessel is registered.

  • As a mark of respect and courtesy to the country, the ship is visiting.
  • A house flag to identify the company the ship belongs to.
  • Single letter hoist, double letter hoist as required by international and local regulation to signify something.

Positioning of the flag

  • The Ensign of the country to which the ship is registered is usually flown on the Ensign staff at the stern. This is usually when the ship is in port or at anchor. When the ship is making way specially in rivers or lakes with a pilot on board, the Ensign may be hoisted at the aft halyard of the main mast.

(Please note that the main mast is usually above the bridge and has a yardarm extending to port and starboard.  It also has a halyard rigged at the stern of the mast where the Ensign flag may be hoisted.)

  • The courtesy flag will be national flag of the country the ship is visiting. This is always hosted at the extreme starboard halyard of the ship on the main mast. 
  • The House Flag (Flag of the Company) is normally hoisted on the Jackstaff on the bow. If it is not possible to hoist here, the House Flag can be hoisted on the extreme port halyard of the ship’s main mast.
  • Other flags like the signal flags may be hoisted in any other halyards except those mentioned above.

Dipping of Ensign

The dipping of the Ensign is a salute and is carried out as follows:-

Slowly lower the Ensign from the ‘close up’ to the ‘dip’ keeping the halyards taut and when the salute has been acknowledged slowly hoist to the ‘close up’.

For the purpose of the above, we will define here what is ‘close up’ and ‘dip’. 

‘Close up’ – A flag or a signal is said to be ‘close up’ when hoisted to the full extent of the halyard.

‘At the dip’ – This is the position of a signal when hoisted about half the extent of the halyard.

The Ensign is dipped as a mark of respect when passing any naval ships.

Dressing the ship

On ceremonial occasions like national holidays, the ship is required to be dressed. Though this practice is rarely seen these days a general idea of how it is done may be of some interest to you.

The Ensign and the Courtesy Flags remain in the same place. The International Code Signal Flags are used. The order of the flags and the way the ship is dressed is left entirely to the master and the responsible officer.

This type of dressing may be seen these days on passenger ships.

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