Flags Flying Aloft

Our good friends on Second Sally gave us a Bahamian courtesy flag when we bought our boat.  Considering we were relatively newbies (and still are!), it seemed like they issued us a challenge – would we make it to the Bahamas so we could put the flag to use? It was an aspirational gift.  We are on our way!

Bahamian Flag
Bahamian Courtesy Flag

There are a variety of flags to have aboard:

Country flag or ensign

–  Courtesy flags

– “Q” flag needed when initially entering a new country

– Decorative code flags

– Burgees for organizations and yacht clubs, and house flags

In this post I gave instructions for making a house flag.  Making flags can save a bit of money as flags can be pricey.  Flags can be made by hand or machine.   My preference is by machine if you plan to use it for an extended period of time underway.  Flags take a beating in the wind.

Materials and Construction

Polyester seems to be a the best choice for longevity; cotton would be a very traditional choice.  Most frequently I see nylon offered for pre-made flags.  I used a nylon fabric to make our house flag.   A heavier-weight nylon and UV resistant thread would be worth using to help the flag stand up to the elements.  Our house flag is red and it has started to fade after about two years, so I’ll remake it down the way.  But, it has held up fairly well.  I did have to reinforce the end as it really gets whipped around and has frayed a bit.  Next time I’ll also be sure to use brass grommets as mine are starting to rust.  The tip or corners of the flag need to be reinforced – with stitching and/or with interfacing and seams need to be double stitched or top stitched.  Using a flat felt seam for joining pieces helps.

For repairs to our ensign of unknown age, I used insignia material to cover thin spots and basting tape to hold together shredding areas and seams while I stitched them down.  One friend on Kindred Spirit suggested turning the end under and stitching it down which will work but does shorten the flag.

Ensign repairs using insignia material
Ensign repairs using insignia material. If you look closely you’ll see a small red and white patch which I later sewed down.

Update:  After the first flag repair and one day of flag flying in 20 knot winds, the areas around the repairs shredded.  So while the repairs held they must have added stress to the weakened area.  Repair 2.0:  I sewed on larger sections (2″x5″) of insignia fabric in hope to give more strength to the worn areas.  And, we put a new flag on the list of things to buy at the next marine store stop.  Our flag was inherited so of unknown age.  Flags under hard use are in the “consumables” category.

Update to the Update:  I am retracting my suggestion for the use of insignia material.  It didn’t allow for enough flexibility of the fabric in the wind. The flag shredded around the repair further.  Back to shortening the flag or getting a new one.

Flag Repair 2.0
Flag Repair 2.0

Flag Blog Posts





Sailrite – http://www.sailrite.com/Make-Courtesy-and-Signal-Flags

Sew Many Flags – http://www.sewmanyflags.com/flagtips.htm  – Australian book about flag-making.

Flag Etiquette – US Power Squadron

Curious if size matters?

Sailboat Length Yacht Ensign Size
Under 20′ 12″ x 18″
20′ 16″ x 24″
25′ 16″ x 24″
30′ 24″ x 36″
35′ 24″ x 36″
40′ 24″ x 36″
45′ 30″ x 48″

What other information should be added to this post about flags and using flags aboard?  I’d be glad to update with additional information.


Leave a Reply