What flag is that?

We are asked that question often and our answer is: it’s the Australian Red Ensign. Then people say, but the Aussie flag is blue, why fly a red one? Traditionally the blue flag is used on land and the red one at sea. In reality, we can fly either the blue or the red but, because we are at sea, we choose to fly the flag associated with maritime activity.

Australian Red Ensign

Then people say, oh, we thought you were British.

Britain’s Red Ensign

We can see their confusion and, to be honest, there are alot more Brits over here than Aussies.

The very next question seems to be about the New Zealand flag. What is the difference between the Australian and the NZ flags? As I couldn’t remember, and they almost look the same when fluttering behind a boat, I did some research and found the following.

Australian flag

The Aussie flag, both Red and Blue Ensigns, have the Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star and five stars representing the Southern Cross.


The New Zealand flag also has the Union Jack but with four stars, each with a red interior, representing the Southern Cross. Interestingly, the New Zealanders may change their flag soon as there has been ongoing debate since 1973 resulting in a promised referendum by the current government. Will it be the very recognisable Silver Fern?

NZ quasi-national emblem, the Silver Fern

If they get to use the Silver Fern as their national flag, perhaps we could use our Boxing Kangaroo?


Since we commenced sailing in the Caribbean, we have become more and more interested in flags and, both of us being quite competitive, now regard identification of the flag as a sport. By far, the easiest to recognise are the USA, Canada and France.

When sailing, in addition to flying the flag of the vessel’s home port, it is customary to fly the flag of the country you are visiting, known as a courtesy flag. At the moment we are in Antigua and it is a beautiful one. Many Caribbean countries have modern designs due to their more recent independence which makes them very interesting.


According to Wikipedia, the rising sun on the flag of Antigua symbolises the dawning of a new era. The colours have different meanings, the black is for the African ancestry of the people, the blue for hope, the red for energy or dynamism of the people. The successive colouring of yellow, blue, and white (from the sun down) also stands for the sun, sea, and sand.

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Kool Kat flying the courtesy flag of Grenada

Upon arrival for the first time in a country and before visiting customs and immigration, it is required that your vessel flies a Quarantine flag. This is yellow, known as a Q flag, and indicates you haven’t yet cleared in. On occasions, if we are sailing from one country and by-passing another, we may pull into a bay to spend the night and fly the Q flag. We can’t go ashore under these circumstances. The next morning we sail away and continue our journey. We did this recently when we pulled into St Lucia for the night, after having left St Vincent and the Grenadines and on our way to Martinique.

Flags get a beating and this is what happens to them after eight months exposure to the elements. Fortunately, we purchased two new ones which my sister, Anne, recently brought with her which we are treating with far more reverence 😉

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A sad state of affairs!
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Our brand new flag! Gorgeous, isn’t she?

Anne very kindly gave us an Australian Aboriginal flag but before flying it we want to check if there are any regulations we need to follow. Hopefully it will be fluttering on Kool Kat soon.


The flag designer, aboriginal artist Harold Thomas, stated black represents the Aboriginal people of Australia, red represents the red earth, the red ochre and a spiritual relation to the land, and yellow represents the sun, the giver of life and protector.

Happy sailing, Sue & Mal xx


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