dunedin boat club 

flag And BURGEE etiquette

When mariners started crossing the oceans, flags were an important communications tool between ships when at sea and even ashore. Lives depended on the correct interpretation of their meaning, especially on fighting ships.  Today, proper use of flags is not just a way to identify vessels and boating organizations, but to give important instructions, make announcements, warn of approaching storms, and mostly to honor and keep alive the naval traditions and seamanship spirit of those sailors that preceded us.

Flags have different shapes and colors depending on their function.  A pennant is a flag that is larger at the hoist than at the fly and can be triangular, tapering, or swallow-tailed.  A burgee is a pennant that identifies a recreational boating organization.

The Dunedin Boat Club / Dunedin Marina Flagpole

When entering the channel leading into the Dunedin Marina, you might have noticed our flagpole on the Southside of the channel and asked yourself,  "Why does the Dunedin Boat Club burgee fly higher on the flagpole than the U.S. flag?  I thought the U.S. flag was always on top of the flagpole." 

While most experienced sailors know the answer, many power boaters and the general public often do not.  Hopefully, the below explanation will clear things up for you.

Flags Placement on the Flagpole

A Boat Club / Yacht Club clubhouse is traditionally considered to be a vessel and not part of the land.  It is meant to have a proper flagpole that mimics the mast of a large sailing ship.  In addition, many of the masts in early Yacht Clubs were real masts repurposed from a large gaff-rigged sailing vessel.

The difference between a conventional land flagpole and a boat club/yacht club flagpole is the yardarm and a gaff pole which mimic the aft mast of a ship.  At sea, the gaff was used to raise the mizzen (rear) sail and is the aft-most point on the vessel.  Since the national ensign (the U.S. flag in our case) is meant to be flown from the aft-most point of a ship, it was flown either from a pole on the stern or hoisted on the gaff.  Some ships also attached their national ensign to the leech of their mizzen sail.

The orientation of a clubhouse flagpole is also important, as it should be positioned as the mast of a ship standing out to sea (gaff pointing inland).  A clubhouse flagpole often flies the burgees of the club officers, to recognize their rank and their presence at the club or vessel.

The traditions of the nautical flagpole are not commonly known among the public and often generate controversy because no flag is ever meant to be flown in a position of greater honor than our national ensign.  People see the club burgee flying higher than the national ensign.  What they do not know is that in the naval world, the highest point of the mast is not the place of greatest honor.  The place of greatest honor is the aft, hence the national ensign is flown from the gaff.

Flags on Your Vessel

Members should fly our Club’s burgee on their sailing vessels from either of two locations, while underway and at anchor.  The more common is from a halyard under the lowermost starboard spreader.  The more traditional is from a pig stick from the aft-most mast.  Flying a pig stick indicates the yacht is in excellent trim because having the gear and skills to fly a pig stick denote a significant amount of knowledge and experience.  The burgee should not be flown while racing.  Powerboats that do not have mast may fly the burgee on a short staff at the bow.

Another important flag for Members is the United States Yacht Ensign, the 13-star “Betsy Ross” flag with a fouled anchor in the union. While in US waters, the yacht ensign is traditionally flown on recreational boats instead of the National ensign.  In foreign waters, the 50-star national flag should be flown.

Exchange of Burgees

It is a nautical tradition to exchange burgees when visiting other boat clubs/yacht clubs or entering into reciprocity agreements. Members traveling to other clubs may purchase burgees in advance from our ship store.  When exchanging burgees with another club, please record the exchange with a picture that can be included in our newsletter.  In these cases, it is important that any picture displays the Dunedin Boat Club burgee positioned correctly, similar to how it flies on our flag pole!

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