PBO reader Tjalling Halbertsma wants to know exactly what is meant by an undefaced ensign. Our expert explains all…


Tjalling Halbertsma from Bergen, North Holland writes: “I sail a 28ft flat-bottomed Vollenhovense Bol, built in steel and a fine ship for the Waddenzee in the Netherlands with a draught of less than 2ft (0.6m).

“While leafing through your magazine I hit upon an article about boat flag etiquette, a subject I love. But I’m afraid I don’t quite understand the meaning of the word undefaced’. My dictionaries and Google have all let me down. Can you explain this word?”

RYA instructor Andy Du Port replies: “British yachts may wear one of three ensigns: White, Blue or Red. Any British yacht may wear the Red Ensign, but the White and Blue are restricted to members of clubs and associations which have been granted a warrant by the government and are known as ’special ensigns’.

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“A defaced ensign is one on which a badge or emblem has been added, usually on the fly (the part of the flag furthest from the flagpole). An undefaced ensign is therefore a plain one without any additional badges or emblems.

“The wearing of a defaced ensign is subject to the same rules as the undefaced equivalents and are shown on a club’s warrant, and reproduced on each permit issued to its members. The main points are:

  • The special ensign may only be worn by the yacht shown on the permit, and the person named on the permit must be on board.
  • The permit must also be on board.
  • When a special ensign is worn, the relevant club burgee must be flown at the same time.

“And all this is not just good manners – these rules are enforceable by law!”

Got a question? Email pbo@futurenet.com and we’ll put it to one of our experts.