An ensign is the national flag flown on a vessel to indicate nationality. The ensign is the largest flag, generally flown at the stern (rear) of the ship while in port. The naval ensign (also known as war ensign), used on warships, may be different from the civil ensign (merchant ships) or the yacht ensign (recreational boats). Large versions of naval ensigns called battle ensigns are used when a warship goes into battle. The ensign differs from the jack, which is flown from a jackstaff at the bow of a vessel. In its widest sense, an ensign is just a flag or other standard. The European military rank of ensign, once responsible for bearing a unit's standard (whether national or regimental), derives from it (in the cavalry, the equivalent rank was cornet, named after a type of flag). In contrast, the Arab rank of ensign, ''liwa'', derives from the command of a unit or units with an ensign, not the carrier of such a unit's ensign, and is a general officer. In Arab armies, "ensign" is a unit title equivalent to a Western brigade, and as a rank is equivalent to a divisional commander. Ensigns, such as the ancient Roman ensigns in the Arch of Constantine, are not always flags.

National ensigns

In nautical use, the ensign is flown on a ship or boat to indicate its organizational membership. While this includes its nationality, it may well indicate more information (e.g. civilian, naval, or police vessel) rather than being the national flag itself. This is particularly common for European and Commonwealth countries. Ensigns are usually at the stern flagstaff when in port, and may be shifted to a gaff (if available) or mast amidships when the ship is under way, becoming known as a ''steaming ensign''. Vexillologists distinguish three varieties of a national flag when used as an ensign: *A civil ensign (usage symbol ) is worn by merchant and pleasure vessels. In some countries the yacht ensign, used on recreational boats or ships instead of merchant vessels, differs from the civil ensign. *A state ensign or government ensign (usage symbol ) is worn by government vessels, such as coast guard ships. *A naval ensign (usage symbol ) is used by a country's navy. Many countries do not distinguish among these uses, and employ only one national flag and ensign in all cases; in the United States, for example, all ships of the seagoing services of the United States Government with the exception of the United States Coast Guard fly the national flag as their ensign, although the ships of some agencies also fly an agency flag as a "distinguishing mark." Other countries (like the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan) use different ensigns. Such ensigns are strictly regulated and indicate if the vessel is a warship, a merchant ship, a ship under contract to carry mail, or a yacht, for example. Several Commonwealth countries' national flags had their origin in the ensigns of their original colonising power, the United Kingdom. Most notable of these national flags are those of Australia, New Zealand, and several smaller island nations. It is also very likely that the Grand Union Flag from which the flag of the United States developed was strongly influenced by the British Red Ensign or the flag of the (British controlled) East India Company.

Air ensigns

With the creation of independent air forces and the growth in civil aviation in the first half of the 20th century, a range of distinguishing flags and ensigns were adopted. These may be divided into air force ensigns (often light blue in colour, such as the Royal Air Force Ensign) and civil air ensigns.

Heraldic ensigns

In heraldry, an ensign is the ornament or sign, such as the crown, coronet, or mitre, borne above the charge or arms.


File:Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg|The White Ensign as currently used by Royal Navy vessels File:Government Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg|The Blue Ensign as currently used for British government vessels File:Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg|The Red Ensign as currently used for British civilian vessels File:Government Ensign of Gibraltar.svg|Government Ensign of Gibraltar File:Civil Ensign of Gibraltar.svg|Civil Ensign of Gibraltar File:Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg|Royal Air Force Ensign used by the Royal Air Force File:Air Force Ensign of Australia.svg|Royal Australian Air Force Ensign File:Air Force Ensign of New Zealand.svg|Royal New Zealand Air Force Ensign File:Air Force Ensign of Canada.svg|Royal Canadian Air Force Ensign File:Naval Ensign of Australia.svg|Royal Australian Navy Ensign File:Naval Ensign of New Zealand.svg|Royal New Zealand Navy Ensign File:Naval Ensign of Canada.svg|Royal Canadian Navy Ensign File:Civil Air Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg|The Civil Air Ensign as currently used by UK civil aviation establishments File:Civil Air Ensign of Australia.svg|Australian Civil Aviation Ensign File:Civil Air Ensign of New Zealand.svg|New Zealand Civil Air Ensign File:Flag of Australia (converted).svg|Australian national Flag and State Ensign File:Civil Ensign of Australia.svg|Australian Red Ensign File:Flag of New Zealand.svg|New Zealand national flag (Māori: ''Te haki o Aotearoa'') and State Ensign File:Civil Ensign of New Zealand.svg|New Zealand Red Ensign File:Naval Ensign of India.svg|Indian Navy Ensign File:Civil Ensign of India.svg|Indian Civil Ensign File:Naval Ensign of Belgium.svg|Belgian Navy Ensign File:Naval Ensign of Egypt.svg|Egyptian Navy Ensign File:Flag of Finnish yacht clubs.svg|Finnish yacht club ensign. The circled X represents the club emblem File:Ensign of France.svg|Civil and Naval Ensign of France File:Naval Ensign of Germany.svg|Bundesmarine Ensign File:Naval Ensign of Italy.svg|Naval ensign of Italy File:Naval Ensign of Japan.svg|Naval ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force File:Naval Ensign of Myanmar.svg|Myanmar navy ensign File:Naval ensign of North Korea.svg|North Korean navy ensign File:Flag of Norway, state.svg|Ensign of the Royal Norwegian Navy File:Naval Ensign of Denmark.svg|Ensign of the Royal Danish Navy File:Naval Ensign of Poland.svg|Polish Navy ensign File:Naval Ensign of Russia.svg|Ensign of the Russian Navy File:Naval Ensign of Saudi Arabia.svg|Naval Ensign of the Royal Saudi Navy File:Yachts Ensign of Spain.svg|Spanish yacht ensign File:Naval Ensign of Sri Lanka.svg|Naval ensign of Sri Lanka File:Naval Ensign of Thailand.svg|Naval ensign of Thailand File:Naval Ensign of Ukraine.svg|Ukrainian Navy ensign File:Ensign of the United States Coast Guard.svg|United States Coast Guard ensign File:Flag of the Netherlands.svg|Royal Dutch Navy ensign File:Ensign of Vietnam People's Navy.svg|Naval ensign of Vietnam File:Civil Ensign of Luxembourg.svg|Luxembourg Civil Ensign

See also

* Distinguishing mark * Maritime flag * Jack





External links

{{Commons category|position=left|Ensigns Category:Types of flags Category:Maritime culture