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Colours of the Fleet

Despite the increasing sophistication of technology in the Royal Navy, the traditions surrounding 'The Colours of the Fleet' are still maintained.

The importance of representing the nation and the Sovereign in our maritime organisations is as great as it ever was, and flags provide both the traditional and most obvious way of doing this.

Flags have always had an important part to play at sea: for passing messages, for identifying other vessels or the people carried in them, for warning of danger and many other purposes. Today's flags provide a very useful means of identification and the traditional ceremonial surrounding Naval flags remains firmly part of Service life.

  • This is worn by all HM Ships in commission and by shore establishments. Some Civilian authorities with Naval connections have been granted permission to use it in special circumstances. Before 1864 the Fleet comprised 3 Squadrons using the Red, White and Blue Ensigns respectively. The present design dates from 1801
  • Worn by all British registered merchant ships and civil craft. Merchant ships under charter to the Navy normally continue to use the Red Ensign. Some defaced Red Ensigns have been granted to yacht clubs by Admiralty warrant.
  • A variety of defaced Blue Ensigns are worn by Government vessels other than warships. Undefaced Blue Ensigns may be used by the holder of an Admiralty warrant which may be granted to the master of a merchant ship who is in the RNR. Blue Ensigns (defaced or undefaced) are also granted to some civil authorities and yacht clubs. It is rare to see an undefaced Blue Ensign in military service.
  • Civilian manned vessels of the RFA accompany HM Ships all over the world to provide fuel, food, stores, and ammunition. The ensign dates from 1974. The RFA Jack is similar but square
  • The national flag of the United Kingdom is worn as a Jack at the bow by all HM ships in commission when alongside or when 'dressed overall'. This is the only occasion when it is correctly called the Union Jack, although it is generally known by this name through common usage. It is also flown during Courts Martial and is the Distinguishing Flag of an Admiral of the Fleet.
  • An Admiral (4 star) flies St George's Cross in his flagship.
  • A Vice Admiral (3 star) flies his flag in the same circumstances as an Admiral.
  • This flag denotes a Rear Admiral's (2 star) flagship or headquarters
  • A Commodore (1 star) flies his Broad Pennant in his flagship or at his headquarters.
  • The flag of a Major General RM (2 star) will be flown at his headquarters. It follows the pattern of an Army Divisional Commander's
  • A Brigadier (1 star) will use his pennant in similar manner to a Commodore.
  • This flag denotes a Joint Commander of 3 star rank (Vice Admiral or equivalent). A range of Joint Commander Flags were created in 1967. The Chief of Defence Staff, 4 star, 2 star and 1 star officers all have flags based on a similar design but with the appropriate badge for their rank or appointment
  • 7 principal Commands of the Navy hold a Queen's Colour, including the RNR who received theirs in June 2003. They are paraded on important ceremonial occasions and afforded the highest degree of respect. When new Colour is presented by the Sovereign - every 25 years - the old one is laid up in a Naval church.
  • Each of the 3 Commandos (40,42 and 45) has a Queen's Colour in addition to its Regimental Colour. Each is identical except for the cords and tassels which are interwoven with silk in the colour of the particular Commando's uniform lanyard.
  • This is flown when the Navy Board meets either on land, or at sea.
  • The flag is flown when the Admiralty Board meets either on land, or (theoretically) at sea.
  • This flag is reflected in the pattern of the 'stable' belt worn by Royal Marines. Blue is for the maritime connection, Yellow for the original uniform colour, Green for the Light Infantry and Red for the tunic colour in 1876.
  • Most RM Unit flags (except 42 Cdo) follow this pattern, using appropriate colours. The fighting knives are replaced by other devices in training or support units. Current unit flags were introduced in 1991.
  • This is the flag of 42 Commando brigade, Royal Marines. Very different from the other two Commando Brigade flags.
  • Most RM Unit flags (except 42 Cdo) follow this pattern, using appropriate colours. The fighting knives are replaced by other devices in training or support units. Current unit flags were introduced in 1991.
  • It is customary for a ship entering harbour for the last time to fly this pennant in place of her masthead pennant. Its length depends on the length of the commission but is generally the same as the ship herself
  • Flown in all HM Ships and establishments in commission (unless displaced by a senior officer's flag). St Georges Cross occupies only a portion of the length because this is the 'White' pennant as opposed to the 'Red' or 'Blue' pennant which are now rarely used.
  • resembles what is commonly known as a Pilot Jack or Merchant Jack, but with a crown at the centre, beneath which are the letters "QHM". At Portsmouth, the QHM's flag flies from a mast situated at King's Stairs. It is also flown afloat when the QHM is on board. The Pilot Jack is a Union Jack with a white border and was introduced in 1823 so that civilian vessels could signal their requirement for a pilot. Until then many had been illegally following the RN custom of hoisting the Union Jack. The flag was introduced for the use by the KHM (now QHM) by Notice to Mariners 489 of 1915.