s/y Nine of Cups
Making Your Own Courtesy Flags
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It is proper sailboat etiquette and customary
in foreign ports to fly a miniature version of
that country's national maritime ensign as a
courtesy flag at the starboard spreaders.
Courtesy flags should only be flown above
(superior) to any other flags on the same
halyard. Only one courtesy flag should
normally be flown.

Sometimes they're difficult to find in
advance and most times are quite expensive
($25-35 US). For the most part and
depending on the intricacy of the flag
design,  we've found that simply making our
own is the easiest and most convenient way
to go. The results aren't always perfect, but
they pass the 20 foot visual test.
Materials to have on board:

*Various colors of nylon flag material
*A flag reference book with good color
photos of  each country's flag
*Various colors of sail tape
*Sturdy 1" webbing for the hoist (I use
old jacklines)
*Grommets (and grommet tool) or small line
which can be run through the length of the
hoist for attaching to the flag halyard
*A sewing machine is easiest, but obviously
they can be made by hand stitching.

SailRite has a good supply of flag
making materials and even kits for courtesy
flags and signal flags.
Marcie puts the finishing touches on the New
Zealand courtesy flag. For this flag, I used navy
nylon fabric. Since many courtesy flags use the
British ensign, I bought several small (3"x5") flags
for about $1/ea and then incorporated them into the
flag design of this and many other flags.
What about the US Flag?
Too difficult and complex for me to make with all those stars
and stripes. I did some shopping, however, on Ebay and
found I could buy a quantity of US flags made of nylon for
about $3/each. These particular flags seem to hold up for
about 3-6 months (depending on the wind and weather).
New Zealand
Cook Islands
Parts of a Flag
(the emblem
placed here is
called a charge)
Upper fly
Lower fly
This little mini-book of
flags is great. It provides
color pictures, history
and symbolism of all the
flags of the world. We
also use it to identify
flags on foreign vessels
that we don't recognize
or get mixed up (e.g.
France & Netherlands).
Some flag trivia....
  • The study of flags and their history is called vexillology
  • Flags have been  in use for over 5000 years, first used
    for identification in war and at sea.
  • Most national flags are rectangular except for
    Switzerland which is square and Nepal which is a
    double pennant.
Tips I've learned along the way:
  • For most flags, the "charge" is not
    important, only the color
    construction and overall design of
    the flag itself..
  • Ecuador, Venezuela &
    Colombia's flags pretty much
    look the same except for the
    charge. I used the same flag for
    all three countries...no charge.
  • When nylon flag material is not
    available for the color I need, I
    use felt squares which hold up
    surprisingly well in wind and
  • All motifs on the flag (e.g. stars)
    are cut out of  colored sail tape
    and stuck on.
  • To make flags to scale, you'll
    need to know the ratio of length
    to width. Our little flag book
    provides the width-length ratio
    for all flags.
A new "Q" flag is
easy...it's just
solid yellow!
David pounds grommets into the
hoist of a newly made St. Kitts flag.