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Royal Yacht Clubs (United Kingdom)

Last modified: 2014-07-19 by rob raeside
Keywords: united kingdom | yacht ensigns |
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"Royal" Yacht Clubs

Throughout the world, in countries formerly part of the Empire, but now independent, there remains a relatively large number of clubs which boast the honorific "Royal" in their titles. Indeed, one such club exists here in Hong Kong. Now I am no expert in this area, but it seems to me that British members of such clubs, sailing British-registered craft, and holding the appropriate warrant can fly a defaced ensign. I am curious, however, as to what that defacement would be. Would it be a simple crown, or would it be the badge of the club to which such members belong? I would also be interested to know whether the ensign so defaced would be the red or the blue.

In the case of a Royal club in a country where the Queen is still head of state, the position seems to be that the red ensign of that country shall normally be flown, unless the member possesses an admiralty warrant to fly a defaced blue ensign. Defaced by what, I do not know, but I am assuming the club's badge. I base this observation upon the "flag and yacht etiquette" section on the homepage of the Royal Prince Albert Yacht Club in Australia.

I quote:

1.1 Flag and Yacht Etiquette are derived from custom and usage of the Royal Navy. Members of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club will wish to maintain similar high standards of seamanship and good manners.

1.2 Ensigns All Australian ships are entitled to wear the Australian Red Ensign.

"Alfreds" yachts may wear the Defaced Blue Ensign provided that:
i) The owner has an Admiralty Warrant to fly the Blue Ensign
ii) The Warrant is aboard the yacht at the time
iii) The owner is on board or in effective control of the yacht (e.g., ashore in the vicinity)
iv) The "Alfreds" burgee is worn

1.3 Colours in Harbour
The Burgee and Ensign should be hoisted at 0800 hours and lowered at sunset. The "Alfreds" requires ships to lower all colours at this time.

1.4 At Sea
The Ensign should be worn in daylight within sight of land or when in company with other yachts or ships. The burgee is not required to be lowered at sunset.

1.5 When Racing
Burgees and Ensigns must not be worn. Racing flags should be flown from the backstay in all "Alfreds" races. Yachts having retired should wear the burgee and ensign.

1.6 Salutes
The Red and Blue Ensigns should be dipped to Warships of all nations and to The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club Flag Officers. The White Ensign is never dipped except when returning a salute.

Does the situation described above apply to ALL Royal yacht clubs (or even non-Royal yacht clubs) in Australia, or is it peculiar to the RPAYC?

Altogether, it would appear that British members of Royal yacht clubs in foreign countries (e.g. Ireland) and Commonwealth countries which are not realms (e.g. India) and warrant holders in Commonwealth countries which are realms (e.g. Australia) are entitled to fly a dizzying range of defaced ensigns, if the defacements are, indeed, the badges of those clubs. If this situation also applies to clubs which are NOT "Royal", the potential number of such defaced ensigns rises accordingly.

Peter Johnson, 4 February 2006

It is the country of registry that defines what ensign a vessel will fly, regardless of the nationality or either owner or master. As far as the defaced ensign of a UK yacht club goes, it is the club that applies for the Warrant, which its members may subsequently fly from their individual (British registered) vessels providing that they, themselves, are aboard, however, this is the first I have heard that they needed (necessarily) to be British citizens in order to do so? The situation might be rather different if each individual member had to apply separately for a Warrant (which to the best of my knowledge - bearing in mind that I've never belonged to a club entitled to a defaced ensign - he or she does not).

The fact that a country becomes independent does not (it would appear) automatically cancel any Warrant issued for a defaced ensign prior to that time, but that any vessels registered in the newly created country may no longer fly it. If however, a member of the yacht club concerned still runs a British registered vessel then they may continue to fly the defaced ensign granted to that club from said vessel - again I am not at all sure about the need for British citizenship.
Christopher Southworth, 4 February 2006

There is no direct connection between a special ensign and the right to have Royal in the club's name. There have been Royal clubs that did not have a special ensign (Galway, Tay, Munster, Barbados, Ceylon, Madras), and there are numerous clubs that have a special ensign, but no Royal title. In the latter part of the 19th century clubs who wanted a special ensign applied to the Home Office for the title "Royal", as it was widely thought that having the title made it more likely that a special ensign would be granted. They were on a hiding to nothing. The Home Office would pass the request to the Admiralty asking, "does this club have a special ensign, and if not, would you grant one if it were requested ?" If the Admiralty replied, "no", and, "would not", the request was submitted to the Queen with the observation "not recommended". It was only rarely that the Queen did not take the advice of the Home Office on this matter.

One point which is sometimes misunderstood is the meaning of "Royal Patronage". Clubs can have Royal Patronage without the title Royal, and having the title does not indicate Royal Patronage. The latter is a more personal thing between the royal person and the club, while the title is to some extent a Home Office matter.
David Prothero, 4 February 2006