Civil ensign

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The civil ensign, also known as merchant flag or merchant ensign, is the national flag flown by civil ships (merchant ships and others, as opposed to military) to denote nationality. Countries may have a national flag for most purposes on land, a distinct civil ensign for non-military ships, and a naval ensign for the navy; sometimes two or all of these flags are identical.

In most countries there was originally no distinction between the flag for armed state ships (navy) and private owned, usually unarmed ships (merchant marine). Today many countries, including the United States and France, continue the practice of having a single national flag for all or most purposes.

In other countries a distinction is made between the land flag and the civil and naval ensigns. Most notable for the elaborate flag system is the United Kingdom, that uses the Union flag on land, (inter alia) the Red Ensign for merchant ships, and the White Ensign for the Royal Navy.

Countries having specific civil ensigns[edit]

The civil ensigns that are different from the "general" national flag, can be grouped into a number of categories.

Civil ensigns with the national flag in the canton/British Red Ensigns[edit]

Several countries use red flags with, in most cases, either the respective national flag or the Union Flag in the canton, patterned after the British Red Ensign. British overseas territories either fly the plain Red Ensign or a Red Ensign with the respective colonial arms in the fly. Saudi Arabia puts its national flag in the canton of an otherwise green flag (note that the Saudi Arabian flag is hoisted with the flagpole to its right, so the canton is in the upper right corner of the flag). It should be noted that Ghana stopped using its red ensign in 2003 with the adoption of a new merchant shipping act which made the Ghana national flag the proper national colors for Ghana ships, and that Sri Lanka stopped using its red ensign in 1969 (45 years ago) and uses the Sri Lankan national flag as the civil ensign. It should also be noted that under the relevant shipping law for the Solomon Islands, the Shipping Act 1998, (No. 5 of 1998), the national flag of the Solomon Islands and not a red ensign is the appropriate flag: Sec. 4(b)(2) states: "The National Flag of Solomon Islands shall be the national colours for a vessel registered under this Act."

Sovereign states[edit]

United Kingdom
United Kingdom
Australia[1]
Australia[1]
Bahamas
Bahamas
Bangladesh
Bangladesh
Fiji
Fiji
Ghana
Ghana
India
India
Malaysia
Malaysia
Mauritius
Mauritius
New Zealand
New Zealand
Pakistan
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates[2]
United Arab Emirates[2]

British overseas territories and crown dependencies[edit]

Plain Red Ensign[3]
Plain Red Ensign[3]
Bermuda[4]
Bermuda[4]
British Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
Cayman Islands
Falkland Islands
Falkland Islands
Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Guernsey
Guernsey
Isle of Man
Isle of Man
Jersey
Jersey
Turks and Caicos Islands
Turks and Caicos Islands

Civil ensigns that vary greatly from the national flag[edit]

Several countries have civil ensigns that are very different from the national flag, for instance Malta and Luxembourg.

National flag
Civil ensign
Albania
National flag
Civil ensign
Israel
National flag
Civil ensign
Luxembourg
National flag
Civil ensign
Malta
National flag
Civil ensign
Singapore

Civil ensigns consisting of the national flag with an additional emblem[edit]

Well-known examples are the Italian civil ensign showing the shield with the arms of the sea republics or the Polish civil ensign with the arms of Poland. Most of these emblems were added to distinguish the ensign from similar flags of other countries (e.g. Colombia/Ecuador, Italy/Mexico, El Salvador/Nicaragua) or from other signal flags (e.g., Poland/pilot flag, Malta/ H signal flag).

National flag
Civil ensign
Colombia
National flag
Civil ensign
El Salvador
National flag
merchant marine ensign
Italy
National flag
Civil ensign
Morocco[5]
National flag
Civil ensign
Poland
National flag
Civil ensign
Republic of China (Taiwan)[6]
National flag
Civil ensign (US Waters only)
United States (domestic waters only; unofficial)
National flag
Yachting club ensign
Finland (Yacht ensign)[7]
  1. ^ The Australian national flag is also used for smaller ships.
  2. ^ The UAE national flag is also reported as civil ensign.
  3. ^ The plain red ensign is used in Anguilla, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands and Saint Helena.
  4. ^ The red ensign, also the national flag, is an appropriate civil ensign for vessels registered on the Bermuda portion of the British Register, by virtue of the Bermuda Merchant Shipping Act of 2002.
  5. ^ The Moroccan national flag is also reported as civil ensign.
  6. ^ Abolished in 1966. Present civil ensign is the national flag of the ROC.
  7. ^ The circled X is replaced with the club emblem.

Simplified national flags[edit]

In several (Spain and much of Spanish Latin America, and some European) countries there are two main versions of the flag, a simpler one (usually a striped flag) and a more elaborate one with the national arms. The simpler one is used as civil ensign (and in most cases also as civil flag), whereas the version with the arms is mainly used by the government and the military. In Spain and Argentina the flag without the arms is only a variant for civil use; the national flag is used also as a civil ensign.[1] In El Salvador, the civil ensign also differs from the national flag in the proportions.

National flag
Civil ensign
Andorra
National flag
Civil ensign
Argentina
National flag
Civil ensign
Austria
National flag
Civil ensign
Bolivia
National flag
Civil ensign
Costa Rica
National flag
Civil ensign
Dominican Republic
National flag
Civil ensign
Ecuador
National flag
Civil ensign
El Salvador
National flag
Civil ensign
Finland
National flag
Civil ensign
Guatemala
National flag
Civil ensign
Haiti
National flag
Civil ensign
Nicaragua
National flag
Civil ensign
Peru
National flag
Civil ensign
San Marino
National flag
Civil ensign
Serbia
National flag
Civil ensign
Spain
National flag
Civil ensign
Venezuela

Civil ensigns differing from the national flag in the proportions[edit]

Several former British colonies use 1:2 as a proportion for their ensigns and 3:5 for flags ashore, whereas Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary have it the other way around, with ensigns at 2:3 and flags ashore at 1:2. France is a special case: the overall proportion is the same, but the bands on the ensign differ in width slightly.

National flag
Civil ensign
Belgium
National flag
Civil ensign
Croatia
National flag
Civil ensign
France
National flag
Civil ensign
Grenada
National flag
Civil ensign
Guyana
National flag
Civil ensign
Hungary
National flag
Civil ensign
Slovenia
National flag
Civil ensign
Switzerland[2]
National flag
Civil ensign
Trinidad and Tobago

See also[edit]

Remarks[edit]

  1. ^ the simplified Spanish flag is a variant for civil use. Source:The history of the flag. (Spanish)
  2. ^ The square flag is used on most rivers and lakes.