The flag of the Bahamas consists of a black triangle situated at the hoist with three horizontal aquamarine, yellow and aquamarine bands. Adopted in 1973 to replace the British Blue Ensigndefaced with the emblem of the Crown Colony of the Bahama Islands, it has been the flag of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas since the country gained independence that year. The design of the present flag incorporated the elements of various submissions made in a national contest for a new flag prior to independence.
The British first arrived in what is now the modern-day Bahamas in 1647, when the Eleutheran Adventurers – English religious refugees from Bermuda – came and built the first European settlement on the islands. Approximately two decades later around 1666, the island of New Providence became overrun with pirates, who turned the area into a safe haven for bandits. The British under Woodes Rogers – who previously worked as a privateer and later became the first Royal Governor of the Bahamas – eventually suppressed piracy on the islands and restored order, and the Bahamas became a crown colony of the United Kingdom within its colonial empire in 1717. Under colonial rule, the Bahama Islands used the British Blue Ensign and defaced it with the emblem of the territory. This was inspired by the ousting of the pirates, and consisted of a scene depicting a British ship chasing two pirate ships out at the high seas encircled by the motto "Expulsis piratis restituta commercia" ("Pirates expelled, commerce restored"). The emblem was designed in around 1850, but did not receive official approval until 1964.
The Bahama Islands were granted "internal autonomy" in 1964. Four years later, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) – which advocated independence from Great Britain – won the first legislative elections held in the territory. After the PLP received an increase in support during the 1972 elections, the territory started negotiations on a roadmap for independence. A search for a national flag began soon after, with a contest being held to determine the new design. Instead of choosing a single winning design, it was decided that the new flag was to be an amalgamation of the elements from various submissions. It was first hoisted at midnight on July 10, 1973, the day the Bahamas became an independent country. The new country also changed its name from the Bahama Islands to the Bahamas upon independence.
The colours of the flag carry cultural, political, and regional meanings. The yellow alludes to the golden sand on the islands' beaches – as well as other key land-based natural resources – while the aquamarine epitomizes the sea surrounding the country (specifically the Caribbean Sea). The black symbolizes the "strength", "vigor, and force" of the Bahamian people, while the directed triangle evokes their "enterprising and determined" nature to cultivate the abundant natural resources on the land and in the sea.
The Bahamian flag is often used as a flag of convenience by foreign merchant vessels. Under the Law on Merchant Shipping Act 1976 (amended in 1982), any domestic or foreign vessel – regardless of country of origin or place of registration – can be registered in the Bahamas "without difficulty". Furthermore, the ship's crew is not restricted by nationality and "ordinary crew members" have "virtually no requirements for qualification". This lack of regulation has led to ships flying flags of convenience – like the Bahamas' flag – having a reputation of possessing a "poor safety record". This came to light in November 2002, when a Greek oil tanker flying the flag of the Bahamas split into two and sank in the Atlantic Ocean off the north-western Spanish coast. This produced an oil slick of 60,000 tons of petroleum.
A British Blue Ensigndefaced with the emblem of the crown colony. This consisted of a British ship chasing two pirate ships out at the high seas and the motto "Expulsis piratis restituta commercia" (Pirates expelled, commerce restored).