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New Zealand Yachting Flags

Last modified: 2023-06-24 by ian macdonald
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The Blue Ensign

[ Yacht Blue Ensign ] image by Jose C. Alegria, 31 December 2000

In August 2000 a new flag was authorised for restricted use in New Zealand and overseas. The flag is the New Zealand Blue Ensign. In 1902, the British Admiralty issued a warrant granting members of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron the right to fly a British Blue Ensign on their vessels. Uniquely, today the Flag Officers of the RNZYS may apply for warrants to wear the New Zealand White Ensign (Naval Ensign) on their own yachts. A similar right had been conferred on the Port Nicholson Yacht Club of Wellington, which in 1921 subsequently became the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, and in 1938 for the Royal Akarana Yacht Club of Auckland but with a Blue Ensign defaced with the Club's badge of a naval crown above a Polynesian voyaging canoe. The principal term of the respective warrants required members' vessels to be registered as British ships. This became impossible in New Zealand after the Shipping and Seamen Act 1952 was enacted which established an independent ship registration system in New Zealand from Britain, however all three yacht clubs continued to use the British Blue Ensign. The constitutional aspects of the practice of the British Admiralty of issuing warrants authorising New Zealanders to fly British Blue Ensigns on their vessels was never considered and was at best questionable after New Zealand became an independent sovereign state.
The right, to the extent that any still existed, was finally lost when the Ships Registration Act 1992 came into force which provided in Section 58 that all vessels in New Zealand, (other than New Zealand Government ships which must fly the New Zealand Flag), were required to fly the New Zealand Flag or the Marine Ensign of New Zealand (New Zealand Red Ensign) other than vessels of the armed forces. This clearly and unequivocally made the flying of the British Blue Ensign in New Zealand unlawful.

After some lobbying, it was agreed that the tradition should continue and Parliament passed the Ships Registration Amendment Act 1999 inserting a new section 58A into the Act which permits New Zealand vessels, as another alternative, to fly a flag authorised by the Sovereign or the Governor General. Subsequently, considerable discussion and correspondence were entered into as to the appropriate form of a flag to replace the British Blue Ensign which the Queen would authorise those New Zealand yacht clubs which previously flew the British Blue Ensign under Admiralty warrant. Ultimately, the form of the flag was settled in the form depicted, which was based on a similar flag worn by vessels in the late nineteenth century of the Auckland Sailing Club, the precursor of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland. The new flag is officially the New Zealand Blue Ensign, and its use by Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Royal Akarana Yacht Club authorised by Royal Licence from the Queen. While it is open for the Queen or the Government to authorise the Ensign to be used for other purposes, its use is currently restricted to Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Royal Akarana Yacht Club and their members.
Both Clubs have promulgated their own rules regulating the use of the New Zealand Blue Ensign by their members which are consistent with the traditional rules for the use of the British Blue Ensign, traditional flag etiquette, and New Zealand legal requirements. Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, for reasons best known to itself, elected not to receive a Royal Licence for the new New Zealand Blue Ensign, however the option for it in the future remains open.

Extract from article in The New Zealand Law Journal by Hamish Ross submitted by Bernard Robertson, Editor of The NZLJ, 28 December 2000

I presume that the new New Zealand Blue Ensign [above], will be flown by the RNZYS, while the Royal Akarana will add the club badge as shown on their web page. The new ensign is derived from the ensign of the Auckland Sailing Club which became the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 1902. That ensign as shown in Lloyds Yacht Register of 1893 is [below].
David Prothero, 29 December 2000

image submitted by David Prothero, 29 December 2000