Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sheldon's "Fun with Vexillology"

While we wait for the rain to stop, this post is for my nerds some boating etiquette.

A Big Bang Theory's Fun with Flags episode:

Life on a boat is steeped in maritime tradition.  Flags are one example.  There are International Code of Signals, national flags, ensign, burgees and signals to name a few. For example, clearing customs in a foreign country is a little different on a private boat than a private airplane.  Upon arrival, you raise the "Q" or yellow quarantine flag (sailboat with one mast:  on the starboard spreader/outboard halyard) to signify "the vessel is healthy and request clearance into port". After you have cleared customs, it is customary to lower the "Q" flag and raise the "courtesy flag" of the foreign nation (no other flag should be flown on this same halyard).  Great, but there are 28 different countries in the Caribbean x $20/flag = $560 (The Captain may have been a little upset when I told him we paid $20 for the Bahamian flag!)  SO,  I decided to try sewing a few of the flags using Don Casey's book, "Canvaswork & Sail Repair".  Step one is to confirm the CURRENT flag of each country we plan to visit.  (I bought a used "Flags of the World" book before we left, but it was published in 2002 and has yet to tell us "what country are they from?")  So I started googling flags.  I even found a website where you could print a "outline picture for kids to color."  (http://www.mapsofworld.com/flags/)  SCORE!

ustalittlefurther.com, Make Your Own Courtesy Flag

Here's where things got sticky.  Our boat came with a few flags, and I had purchased the Bahamian courtesy flag.  Google Bahamas.  Initial research indicated this flag is from 1993?!  After a rant of a sailing forum, I did further research and discovered a "courtesy flag" is actually a maritime flag or civil ensign that doesn't necessarily match the national flag flown ashore.  Sigh.  The good news is that ensigns tend to be a simplified version of the national flag, usually without the "charge".

Wikipedia, simplier "Civil Ensign"

More good news is that many of the Caribbean islands are territories of the Britain (Cayman, Turks & Caicos, BVI, Anguilla & Montserrat), France (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin, & Saint Barthelemy) or the Netherlands (Curacao, Aruba, Sint Maarten & Caribbean Netherlands), (US territories are Puerto Rico and USVI) and it is appropriate to fly the mother-country flags in their place.  That leaves 13 more flags, if you weren't counting.  And no, we probably won't visit ALL of them.

Flying "Old Glory or the "50-star" (US flag):  It is customary to fly the "colors" of the boat's registry from the stern of the boat while underway (or on the high seas, when meeting or passing other vessels) and when anchored.  According to Chapman's, "It should be one inch on the fly for each foot overall length."  I pestered The Captain to fly our Stars & Stripes.  However, the problem is etiquette (sunrise to sunset unless lighted or raining) and wear & tear

In an attempt to remember the International Maritime code signal flags, (yes, we're nerds) I bought a insulated tumbler with all the flags on it.  Here's a list:

Here's a quiz: 

There are a lot of jokes here.  For example:
"Keep clear of me; I am maneuvering with difficulty."  We've needed that, but I'm sure other boaters wouldn't know what it means.

"I need a pilot".  I could raise it when the Captain isn't looking...

"Man overboard".  This one makes me giggle.  It shouldn't.  Man overboard on a short-handed boat is a sailor's worst nightmare.  But nowhere in our training, did our instructor mention "raising the flag."  I can just picture it.  "I'll be right back honey.  I have to go find the flag."

"I'm dragging anchor."  See above

"Protest" is supposed to be used in racing, but again, it makes us chuckle.  Gonna need one.  In fact, maybe just a small one for the cockpit.

Extra credit if you can identify this one.  When I asked the Captain if we should design our own boat flag ie. Owner's Private Signal or house flag (yes, not only do I spend hours researching stuff like this on the internet, we hold conversations about it), he immediately came up with this one:

You're still here?  OK, here's some more:
  • Chapman's Piloting and Seamanship


  1. So, the Whiskey flag signals you need medical assistance. Could it also signify you need medicinal spirits? Hmmm...