- 1) A flag used at sea to denote nationality - or the national flag for use
at sea - and whose current usage falls into one of the several categories
listed separately below. The ensign is generally displayed on a staff at the
stern of a vessel, or from the peak of the gaff of a sailing vessel if so
rigged or two-thirds up the leech of the mainsail if not, and in the case of a
naval ship, from either an ensign staff or from the rigging, with this latter
usually depending on operational requirements and covered under peak (see also
‘galley ensign’, ‘leech’, ‘peak’
and ‘privateer ensign’).
see supplemental note
- 2) The term may also be applied to the distinctive flags of certain or all
the armed services of a particular country (which may, in addition, also act as flags of national
identification) such as the British Air Force Ensign or South African Police Service
- 3) The rank or distinguishing flag of a military or government service formerly
used as an ensign (under definition 1) and still
so called for historical reasons – for example the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs ensigns.
- 4) A largely (if not wholly) obsolete alternate name for a military colour
(see also ‘ancient 2)’ and
- 5) An obsolete name for the lowest commissioned rank in the British Army,
being that rank responsible for carrying the regimental colour (see also
‘ancient 3)’). Also, the lowest
commissioned rank in the United States Navy and some others.
6) In heraldry the correct, although little used, term for the armorial bearings
of a kingdom, of an office or of a community - insignia (see also
From an Ensign Staff; At the Peak; From the Leech
- Civil Ensign
- A flag flown by civilian owned vessels and craft to denote nationality,
sometimes the relevant national flag, or a variant thereof, or occasionally
a completely different design – a merchant ensign or merchant flag (see also
‘civil jack’ under ‘jack’ and
‘red ensign 1)’.
From left: Civil Ensign of Mexico 1897 - 1968 (fotw);
Civil Ensign of Malta (fotw);
Civil Ensign of Singapore (fotw);
Civil Ensign of Colombia (fotw)
- Customs ensign
- 1) See ‘ensign 3)’ and ‘customs flag’ (also
‘government ensign’ below).
2) See ‘Service Ensign’.
Custom Ensign of the US (fotw);
Customs Ensign of Finland (fotw);
Customs Ensign of Brunei (fotw)
- Government (or State) Ensign
- A flag flown to denote nationality by those government vessels that are
not warships, and sometimes defaced by badges to denote various departments –
but see ‘archivexillum’,
‘service ensign’ and
‘state ensign 2)’ (also
‘blue ensign’ and
‘government jack’ under ‘jack’,
From left: Government Ensign of Germany 1893–1918 (fotw); Government Ensign of Singapore (fotw);
Royal Maritime Auxiliary, UK (Graham Bartram)
Please note however, that the defaced
Blue Ensigns of British Dependent Territories act as
both an official flag on land, and as a Government Ensign when flown by a
Government owned vessel at sea.
- Leisure Ensign
- See ‘yacht ensign’ under ‘ensign’.
Ensign of the Royal Norwegian Yacht Club (fotw)
- Naval Ensign
- A flag flown by the naval vessels of a particular country to denote nationality -
sometimes the relevant state or national flag, or a variant thereof, or
occasionally a completely different design (see also
‘masthead pennant 1)’,
‘naval jack’ under ‘jack’,
‘suit of flags’ and
From left: Naval Ensign of Nigeria (fotw);
Naval Ensign of The RSA (fotw);
Naval Ensign of Bulgaria (fotw);
Naval Ensign of Italy (fotw)
- Reserve Ensign
- A flag, different from the normal civil ensign, which is flown to denote
nationality by merchant vessels commanded by an officer of that country’s naval
reserve, and usually requiring a special Warrant (see also
‘blue ensign 1)’, ‘civil ensign’
above and ‘warrant’).
From left: Reserve Ensign of India (fotw);
Reserve Ensign of the UK (fotw);
Reserve Ensign of The Netherlands (fotw);
Reserve Ensign of Germany 1935 – 1945 (fotw)
- Service Ensign
- A flag flown to denote nationality by vessels engaged in providing a particular service - for
example, customs, mail, post, pilotage or lighthouses etc, - but see the note below and
(also ‘customs flag’
and ‘postal flag’).
Trinity House, UK (fotw); Ensign of the
Eastern Canadian Customs Service (fotw);
Ensign for the Commissioners for Northern Lights, UK (fotw)
Please note that a service ensign can also be a government ensign when the service involved
is a government responsibility, for example that of the Eastern Canadian Customs illustrated above.
- War Ensign
- See ‘naval ensign’ and ‘war flag’.
War/Naval Ensign of
Germany 1903 – 1919 (fotw); War/Naval Ensign of
War/Naval Ensign of Malaysia (fotw)
- Yacht (or Yacht Club) Ensign
- A flag, different from the normal civil ensign, which is flown by leisure
craft to denote nationality, usually requiring a special Warrant and often (but by no means invariably) defaced
by an appropriate club emblem – a yacht club or leisure ensign (see also
‘blue ensign 1)’ with its following note, and
‘civil ensign’ above).
From left: Yacht Ensign of Belgium (fotw);
Yacht Ensign of Spain (fotw); Yacht Ensign of Japan (fotw); Yacht
Ensign of Finland (fotw); Yacht Ensign of the
Royal Burnham Yacht Club, UK (fotw)
Please note that in UK usage the owners of civil/leisure vessels flying a plain blue
or defaced ensign are legally obliged to have the warrant/club membership papers
applicable to that ensign available on board, and must produce it when requested to
do so by the appropriate authorities.
- The term for a flag with a field and/or border (possibly also a
fringe) in the livery colours of
a coat of arms, and charged with the full set of armorial bearings – but see
‘armorial flag 2)’ (also
‘coat of arms’, ‘ensign 5)’,
State Flag and Arms of Spain 1945 - 1977 (fotw), Flag,
Arms and Ceremonial Flag of
Braga, Portugal (fotw and official website)
a) The provenance of this term is uncertain
and its use of the description “banner” (as defined herein) inaccurate. However, a
possible derivation from insignia-banner (as opposed to armorial banner) cannot be
b) A full
set of armorial bearings (most notably in Continental civic heraldry) need not contain
all the traditional elements (such as supporters and motto), and to avoid any potential
confusion the new term “armorial flag” (both generically and specifically) is
recommended for use in description.
- ENSIGN (or NAVAL ENSIGN) OF HONOUR (OR HONOR)
- In largely (but by no means exclusively) Russian naval usage, the term for a defaced ensign awarded to vessels
that have particularly distinguished themselves, and have received a decoration
- an honour ensign
(see also ‘defaced’ and ‘ensign 1)’).
From left: Ensign of Honour 1819-1917; Current Ensign of Honour, Frontier Guard Ensign of Honour,
Russian Federation (CS & fotw), Ensign of Honour, Bulgaria 1955 – 1991 (fotw);
Ensign of Honour, Yugoslavia 1949 – 1991 (fotw)
- ENSIGN STAFF
- The short staff at the stern of a ship upon which the ensign is hoisted – a quarterdeck staff (see
also ‘ensign 1)’,
‘jack staff’ and
- ENSIGN, THE
- An alternative term, now largely obsolete, for the naval ensign - see 'naval ensign' under 'ensign'
(also ‘merchant flag’).
The Ensign/Naval Ensign of Spain 1785–1931 (fotw);
The Ensign/Naval Ensign of Italy 1861 – 1946 (fotw);
The Ensign/Naval Ensign of Bulgaria 1878 – 1908 (fotw)
- The heraldic term used when a charge is placed above or at the top of
another. For example, a shield with a crown placed above is said to be
ensigned with the crown – topped but see the note below and ‘surmounted, by 2)’
(also ‘charge 1)’,
‘crown’, ‘crest 1)’, ‘helm’ and
The Lesser Arms of Sweden (fotw); State Flag and Lesser Arms of Serbia (fotw); Historical Flag and 1659 Arms
of Rijeka, Croatia (FAME)
Please note that the correct heraldic term for a charge that is placed in front
of rather than at the top of another is ‘surmounted by’.
- 1) A heraldic term that may be used when a coat of arms is shown in its entirety but which is
impaled, tierced, or displayed quarterly with another that is dimidiated (see also
‘coat of arms 2)’,
‘dimidiated’ and ‘impale’).
2) See ‘throughout’.
Flag of Šumperk, Czech Republic (fotw); Arms and Flag of
Krásné Pole, Poland (fotw); Arms and Flag of
Beringen, Switzerland (Wikipedia
- See ‘interlaced’.
1606 Pattern Union Flag, UK
- In heraldry see ‘point-in-point’.
Flag and Arms of North Rhine – Westphalia, Germany (fotw)
- In heraldry see ‘invected’.
Flag and Arms of Lázně Bělohrad Czech Republic (fotw