- 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 (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
Please note with regard to 1) that 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 depending either on tradition or operational requirements and is covered under peak.
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/variant thereof, or occasionally
a completely different design – a merchant ensign, commercial or merchant flag (see also
‘civil jack’ under ‘jack’ and
‘red ensign 1)’.
Civil Ensign of Malaysia (fotw);
Civil Ensign of Croatia (fotw);
Civil Ensign of Singapore (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 ‘template flag’, ‘archivexillum’,
‘service ensign’ and
‘state ensign 2)’ (also
‘blue ensign’ and
‘government jack’ under ‘jack’,
Government Ensign of Germany 1893–1918 (fotw); Government Ensign of
Royal Maritime Auxiliary, UK (fotw)
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
Naval Ensign of Nigeria (fotw);
Naval Ensign of The RSA (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’).
Reserve Ensign of India (fotw);
Reserve Ensign of the UK (fotw);
Reserve Ensign of The Netherlands (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).
Yacht Ensign of Belgium (fotw);
Yacht Ensign of Spain (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)’ and
the notes below (also
‘coat of arms’, ‘ensign 5)’,
State Flag and Arms of Spain 1945 - 1977 (fotw);
Flag of Albufeira, Portugal (fotw)
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
- ENSIGN OF HONOUR (OR HONOR)
- In largely (but not 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
or naval ensign of honour (see also ‘defaced’ and ‘ensign 1)’).
Ensign of Honour 1819-1917; Current
Frontier Guard Ensign of Honour, Russian Federation (fotw
& CS), Ensign of Honour,
Bulgaria 1955 – 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 obsolete, for the naval ensign - see 'naval ensign' under 'ensign'
(also ‘merchant flag’).
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
Flag of Geria, Spain (fotw);
Lesser Arms of Serbia (fotw);
Flag of Rijeka, Croatia (fotw)
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’ as
- 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 Hildesheim, Germany (fotw);
Beringen, Switzerland (fotw); Flag of Krásné Pole,
- An alternative heraldic term to interlaced - see ‘interlaced’.
Flag and Arms of Cerna, Croatia (fotw)
- An alternative heraldic term to point-in-point - see ‘point-in-point’.
Arms and Arms of North Rhine – Westphalia, Germany (fotw)
- An alternative heraldic term to invected - see ‘invected’.
Flag of Lázně Bělohrad Czechia (fotw)