Blue Ensign

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For Australian oil shale company, see Blue Ensign Technologies.
RFA Brambleleaf flying the square Blue Jack based on the Blue Ensign

The Blue Ensign is a flag, one of several British ensigns, used by certain organisations or territories associated with the United Kingdom. It is used either plain, or defaced with a badge or other emblem.

The evolution of the Blue Ensign followed that of the Union Jack. The ensign originated in the 17th century with the St George's cross (the Flag of England) in the canton, and with a blue field (top right).

The Acts of Union 1707 united England and Wales with Scotland in the Kingdom of Great Britain, thus producing a new Blue Ensign with the new Union Flag in the canton. With the Act of Union 1800, Ireland joined the United Kingdom and St Patrick's Cross was added to the Union Flag and, accordingly, to the cantons of all British ensigns from 1 January 1801.

Plain blue ensign[edit]

Prior to the reorganisation of the Royal Navy in 1864, the plain blue ensign had been the ensign of one of three squadrons of the Royal Navy, the Blue Squadron. This changed in 1864, when an order in council provided that the Red Ensign was allocated to merchantmen, the Blue Ensign was to be the flag of ships in public service or commanded by an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, and the White Ensign was allocated to the Navy.

Thus, after 1864, the plain blue ensign (i.e., without any defacement or modification) is permitted to be worn, instead of the Red Ensign, by three categories of civilian vessel:[1]

  • British merchant vessels whose officers and crew include a certain number of retired Royal Navy personnel or Royal Navy reservists, or are commanded by an officer of the Royal Naval Reserve in possession of a Government warrant. The number and rank of such crew members required has varied over the years, as have the additional conditions required, since the system was first introduced in 1864.
  • Royal Research Ships by warrant[a] whether manned by former Royal Navy personnel or Merchant Navy personnel.
  • British-registered Yachts belonging to members of certain long-established yacht clubs, such as the Royal Thames Yacht Club, Royal Engineers Yacht Club, The Royal Motor Yacht Club, the Sussex Motor Yacht Club, and the Royal Northern & Clyde Yacht Club. Many more yacht clubs use Blue Ensigns that are defaced by badges (e.g., Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club, Royal Ulster Yacht Club, etc.).

Permission for yachts to wear the blue ensign (and other special yachting ensigns) was suspended during both World War I and World War II.

Defaced blue ensign[edit]

Since 1864, the Blue Ensign is defaced with a badge or emblem, to form the ensign of United Kingdom government departments or public bodies, for example:

  • Vessels belonging to members of certain British Yacht Clubs (for example, the Cruising Association, Parkstone Yacht Club, the Royal Harwich Yacht Club, and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club). Some yacht clubs in Canada (e.g., the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club, the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club, and the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club) were initially granted British Admiralty warrants to use various versions of the Blue Ensign, and in 1938, this authority was transferred to the Canadian Defence Ministry, which then issued special ensign warrants to Canadian yachts thereafter. At the same time, the Canadian Defence Ministry determined that all privileged Canadian clubs would use the Canadian Blue Ensign as opposed to the plain version or a club-defaced version. When the Canadian National Flag was introduced in 1965, the Blue Ensign in all its forms became obsolete in Canada, but several privileged Canadian yacht clubs have continued to display the Canadian Blue Ensign or their pre-1938 Blue Ensign unofficially.
A blue ensign, defaced with the Coat of Arms of Bermuda, as used by marine services of the Government of Bermuda, flies with the flag of the Bermuda Police Service (BPS) from the BPS Marine Section flagpole.
  • Government vessels of UK overseas territories. This usage stems from the fact that in 1867–69, orders in council provided that the ensign for vessels in the service of any of the British colonies was to be the Blue Ensign, charged in the fly with the seal of the colony. Any British colony with ships in its service thus had reason to use the Blue Ensign. This worldwide, imperial use is the origin of the use of the Blue Ensign by many areas today, such as the Australian states. Although the distinguishing flag of Bermuda is a defaced red ensign, its government marine services (police, ferries, etc.) fly a defaced blue ensign from both vessels and shore facilities.

The defaced blue ensign was formerly used as:

  • The ensign (1879-1928) and the jack (1928-1947) of the Royal Indian Navy (HM Indian Marine: 1879-1892, Royal Indian Marine: 1892-1934, Royal Indian Navy: 1934-1950):

Flags of UK Overseas Territories using the Blue Ensign[edit]

Current flags:

Former flags:

National flags based on the Blue Ensign[edit]

These include:

Other flags based on the Blue Ensign[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ An individual warrant is issued by the Secretary of State for Defence for each ship
  1. ^ Naval Staff Directorate. "Naval Flags and Ensigns" (PDF). p. 12. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  2. ^ Flags of the World: British India

External links[edit]