How to Fly the Canadian Flag on a Boat?

After obtaining a Canadian boat licence or registering the vessel, many owners ask themselves how and when the Canadian national flag should be flown on board the vessel. There are quite a few rules that deal with flying the Canadian national flag in the Canada Shipping Act and this article summarizes some of them.

General Rules

First and foremost, all Canadian vessels, whether commercial or pleasure craft can fly the Canadian flag. There are also instances when pleasure craft must fly the Canadian national flag. Such instances are the following:

  1. When signalled to do so by a Canadian government or a Canadian military ship;
  2. When entering or leaving a port; or
  3. When moored or anchored in a port.

There are some other rules to keep in mind for the purpose of Canadian vessel registration and Canadian vessel licencing.

Most boaters fly the national flag when in harbour or in territorial waters. There is no expectation that the flag would be flown while under way on the high seas. While in harbour, the flag should be up from 8:00 a.m. until sunset. Whenever the flag is flown, it should be located at the stern of the vessel.

Courtesy Flags While in Other Countries

When traveling abroad it is a matter of courtesy to fly the flag of the country you are visiting. In the United States, there is a rule requiring the American flag to be flown at the highest position on the vessel so that there are no other flags above it. The American rule is that the flag should be flown on the starboard flag halyard. Other countries generally follow the same rule.

On a sailing vessel, the U.S. courtesy flag would generally be flown from the cross trees using the flag halyard. This would mean that the Canadian National Flag would be flown from the stern. On a powerboat, the courtesy flag would generally replace any of the flags at the bow.

Traditional Rules

Traditionally, when a merchant ship and a military vessel of any nationality pass each other at sea, the merchant ship would dip the flag as a gesture of courtesy. As with all other flags located in Canada, in times of mourning, the flag may be flown at half-mast.

When three flags are displayed at the same time, the National Flag of Canada must be displayed in the centre. To anybody observing the flags, the second-ranking flag would be the one placed to the left of centre, and the third ranking flag would be the one on the right.

Flag Disposal

There are also specific requirements for the disposal of a tattered or worn out Canadian flag. Once the flag can no longer be used for ceremonial purposes, it should be disposed of as follows:

  • A flag can be returned to a participating retail store which will dispose of it;
  • A flag made of natural fibres (wool, cotton, linen) can be buried in a dignified manner, meaning privately and without ceremony or public attention; or
  • A flag made of synthetic materiel (nylon or polyester) should be respectfully torn into strips, with each element of the flag reduced to a single colour, so that the remaining pieces do not resemble a flag. The individual pieces should be placed in a bag for disposal – the shreds of fabric should not be re-used or fashioned into anything.

If you follow these simple rules, you can rest assured that your proud display of the Canadian National Flag on board your boat will comply with legal as well as traditional requirements. And when travelling to other countries, flying a courtesy flag would indicate the respectful attitude Canadians have for the traditions of others.

Please contact us for any issues with your Canadian boat licence or registration.


Vessel Registration Canada Staff

Previous post   Next post