My partner in many, many crimes wished me a Happy Flag Day this morning, and it got me to thinking… First was that I was somewhat embarrassed because I’m the flag guy around these parts and completely spaced it. But mostly it got me thinking about the history and usage that goes around not only the flag being celebrated today, but of flags in general.
A brief history of flags in general is here, tho our interest leans more toward the nautical use of flags. Everybody recognizes a boat’s ensign, it informs everyone of the country that the boat lives in. Did you know the US Yacht Ensign (the one with the anchor in the blue field) isn’t really a legal flag, but it’s accepted in US waters since its use is so prevalent? But if you go to a foreign country, courtesy dictates that one fly the US flag with all 50 stars in the field, in addition to the courtesy ensign of the host country once customs is cleared.
There are seemingly thousands of flags out there for all kinds of uses. We’ve all seen ships and yachts “dressed” in flags for celebration of any sort (sometimes even just because it’s Sunday!). Those flags each represent a single letter or number, and great care is usually taken to ensure that there’s no message hidden in the finery! Well, maybe there’s a carefully hidden “Go Navy” on a certain weekend every fall!
Almost all of those letter flags have a specific meaning as well. You’ve likely seen the Diver Down flag (red with a white diagonal stripe), but in order to be legal the code flag A (Alpha) must be flown. A ship that’s flying code flag S (Sierra) is telling you it’s going backwards (might be hard to tell if it’s a ferry!).
There’s a bunch of other flags that we see on the water. One we don’t much care for is a red square with a black square in the middle, and the one we REALLY don’t like is two of them (hurricane warning)! Others we like to see lots of – the Clean Marina flag, the happy hour flag, the welcome aboard flag, and many others.
As the linked articles state, flags have been around for thousands of years, having been used for communication long before VHF radios and cellphones were a gleam in anybody’s eye. I get a kick out of communicating with flags, and have become familiar with how to do so by virtue of various Yacht Club routines (the New York YC flag routine is considered an authority, many clubs follow it) and of course with Joe Tringali’s Yachting Customs and Courtesies, an authority on all kinds of aspects of boating.
Today is Flag Day, where we celebrate the creation of one particular flag. Me, I like to celebrate flags every day on the water. And I do like celebrations! Happy Flag Day!