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The History of Maritime Flags

Posted by Alan J. Duro on May 1, 2015 6:30:00 AM


Maritime Flags

As navies worldwide began exploring our world, the vessels used in this process began a rich traditionof boat flags that were used for a variety of purposes. In this post, we'll discuss the history and meaning behind some common maritime flags.

Maritime Signal Flags

The most commonly-recognized maritime flags are signal flags. Each flag has a unique color and symbol combination that represents both an individual alphanumeric character for spelling out messages as well as representing a specific meaning. As an example, the A flag conveys that there is a diver in the water and to stand clear, whereas the U flag signals danger. Flags can also form a code word, providing a key for a code book held by both parties. Because of the different colors and patterns, colorblind or shade-deficient individuals cannot serve in most navies.

Other Maritime Flags

In addition to signal flags, there are a wide variety of other boat flags put into use in historic and modern maritime activity. Here are a few of the more common ones:


Burgees are a custom flag designed for a specific recreational boating club. This type of maritime flag is most commonly found on yacht clubs, but can also be applied to sailing vessels.

Commissioning and Decommissioning Pennants

burgeesIn navies worldwide, a new warship receives a commissioning pennant which is typically flown until the ship is taken out of service. By comparison, a decommissioning or paying-off pennant is significantly longer, with the length representing the length of the commission. The term paying-off refers to the British Navy practice of not paying sailors until they return to their home port, to discourage desertion.

Country of Service

A commissioning or decommissioning pennant can be displaced by the flag of the country it serves. This flag is the top flag on the mast, showing service and loyalty to that nation.

Whether you need burgees for your boating group or custom pennants for another purpose, Accent Banner has the experience you need to get the job done right. With over 20 years serving the greater Boston area, we're always happy to help meet our customers' needs through high-quality boat flagspennants and banners. Contact us today for more details.


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Topics: burgees, pennants, Boat Flags

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