Proper respect and guidelines for displaying the U.S. flag is governed by the United States Flag Code, USC Title 4, Chapter 1. The United States Power Squadron, the worlds largest boating educational organization, developed an updated code for displaying flags on boats, which eliminates confusion and will help you show proper respect for each flag and pennant you fly.
Here are some basic guidelines on flag etiquette:
The U.S. national ensign is the proper and preferred flag for all U.S. vessels. Your boat should wear it from 0800 until sunset, and when you enter or leave port during daylight or at night, weather and rig permitting.
The yacht club burgee contains a unique design symbolic of the organization represented. If your boat is a mastless or single-masted yacht, fly your burgee from the bow staff. Boats without a bow staff should wear a burgee at the truck (cap for the top of the mast) of a single-masted yacht. On the other hand, if the truck is occupied with instruments or other gear, a pigstick can be affixed to a halyard so as to carry a flag above the truck. Alternatively, the burgee may be worn at a spreader halyard. If your boat has two or more masts, fly your burgee at the truck of the forward mast. Colors are made each morning at 0800; as mentioned, at yacht club and similar organization docks or anchorages, this may be signaled by a morning gun. The national ensign or yacht ensign is hoisted at the stern (or set in place on its staff). This is followed, as applicable, by a foreign ensign (courtesy flag), a club or squadron burgee, organizational flags, an officer flag or private signal and then by any other signals not already fling, such as a guest flag. At sunset, colors not properly flown on a day-and-night basis should be lowered in reverse sequence, the ensign at the stern always being the last to be secured.
On national holidays, at regattas, and on other special occasions, yachts often "dress ship" with International Code of Signal flags. The ship is dressed at 0800, and remains so dressed until evening colors (while at anchor only, except for a vessel's maiden and final voyages, and participation in a marine parade or other unique situation). In dressing ship, the national ensign is hoisted at the stern staff and a rainbow of flags of the International Code is arranged, reaching from the water line forward to the water line aft, by way of the bowsprit end (or stem if there's no bowsprit) and the masthead(s). Flags and pennants are bent on alternately, rather than in any indiscriminate manner. Since there are twice as many letter flags as numeral pennants, it is good practice, as in the Navy, to follow a sequence of two flags, one pennant, two flags, one pennant, throughout. Here's the recommended sequence:
Starting from forward: AB2, UJ1, KE3, GH6, IV5, FL4, DM7, PO Third Repeater, RN First Repeater, ST Zero, CX9, WQ8, ZY Second Repeater.
The only authorities who may direct that all national ensigns be flown at half-staff (sometimes called "half-mast) are the President of the United States or the governor of a state. The length of time at which the ensign is to be flown at half-staff is determined by the deceased person's position and the directive of the president or governor. A commodore, commander, civic association president, or corresponding official of a similar organization may order his organization's flag flown at half-staff to honor a member who has died. On Memorial day, the national ensign is properly flown at half-staff until 1200. When you fly your national ensign at half-mast, hoist it smartly as high as you can (sometimes referred to as "chock-a-blocked") or "two-blocked"). Then lower it ceremoniously to the half-mast position. When you are taking it down at the end of the day, smartly two-block it again and then lower it ceremoniously from there.
The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
The flag should not be used as a drapery, or for covering a speakers desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general.
The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose.
The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.
The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.
The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously. Fold in the traditional triangle for stowage, never wadded up.
The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.
The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.
The flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset. It should be illuminated if displayed at night.
The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, with the exception of an all-weather flag designed for inclement weather use.
See these sources for additional
United States Flag Code, USC Title 4, Chapter 1
United States Power Squadron
Sailing Scuttlebutt World on Water Video Learning Center
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