Flags on ships (and boats) communicate. They are intended to send messages to other boats (and ships), and they are structured to do so internationally. Each flag by itself and many combinations provide very specific information, which you should know before you raise any flags.
America is a strong nation founded upon the principles of liberty and freedom. Naturally, Americans exhibit the same fundamental spirit of patriotism that this great nation was founded upon, whether it’s demonstrated through the actions of brave men and women who fight every day for our freedom overseas, or by simple gestures and actions that show support for our country at home.
This can be as simple as dressing up your boat or yacht with boat flags on Memorial Day and proudly waving the American flag. In support for the love of country, there are a lot of ways citizens can show their patriotism, and in the United States of America, this is usually branded with the colors red, white, and blue.
In the water, it isn’t easy to overlook. Boats of all kinds can show a true sense of American patriotism, whether they’re civilian speedsters driven by fellow Americans on the 4th of July or aircraft carriers decked with fighter jets and a stream of colored smoke flying overhead, all done in the most radical bids to show off the creative showcase of the American spirit.
Our historic American warships have played pivotal roles in shaping world history and, at the same time, serve as the largest patriotic boats out there. Even yachts decked out in all things red, white and blue that are owned by those who dared to dream the American dream, like nautical enthusiast and yacht owner Ralph Lauren, take part in this list of patriotic boats and yachts. From sea to shining sea—and in every waterway and lake in between—boats have played a major role in instilling patriotism and pride in America.
To start off, we’ve listed a few spirited and imaginative civilian boats designed and decorated by fellow Americans. Then, we progress to key ships and vessels that played important roles in defending America and keeping the red, white and blue flying high above the oceans of the world, spirited, alive, and thriving. Even if it’s a small nautical flag tied to the back of a sailboat, the same spirit makes the U.S. one of the greatest seafaring nations in the world. All aboard!
Classic American Flag Sail
Nothing says freedom and patriotism more than a beautifully shaped American flag as a boat’s sail, drifting under a clear blue sky. This simple yet impressive display of patriotism has an understated kind of quality to it. Even if it’s just a gentle glide on a lake in Minnesota, or you’re sailing to a far-off island in the Florida Keys, this boat will get you there in great style. The Star-Spangled-Banner-shaped sail is perfect to show fellow patriots you’re proud to be American, all the while looking quite good doing it! All you need now is a sailboat.
If that one big all-encompassing flag isn’t the route you want to take, some people tend to go for quantity instead. Maybe that big American flag sail didn’t arrive in time for Memorial Day weekend, but that’s no cause for concern. Decorating a boat with the necessary maritime flag can go as far as adorning the entire ship in the Star-Spangled Banner.
You can often see boat homes decorated in this way along Elliot Bay in Seattle on the 4th of July. This patriot in this image has decked out his boat with Star-Spangled Banners all along the sides and bow, but the real pièce de résistance lies in the beautiful crisp flags being flown above his head. In what can only be described as a proud display of the true patriot spirit, the colors red, white, and blue fly proudly and high.
Balloons and More Balloons!
When flying the American flag high and proud on your boat this summer, or perhaps when showing off at the lake, never rule out balloons (in red, white, and blue, of course.) Although it may be a simple idea, it was one that showcased love of country in a festive and unabated way. Sure, we’re used to them at birthday parties, but this group used them in a fun and simple way accompanied with classic American flags, ribbons, and Uncle-Sam-themed hats.
Lights and Neon
While some opt for the classic-looking American flag to showcase their national pride, others tend to go for a showier display. This group happened to deck out their boat with flashing Christmas lights in red, white, blue, LED stars, and a neon sign brandishing the letters, U.S.A. While not the classic way most boats and yachts are decorated to show their patriotism, this lot definitely takes a creative, bright, and imaginative approach! If patriotism is measured in showmanship, no one can honestly doubt their commitment!
All Things Star-Spangled
American Flag dinner serviettes, red, white, and blue-colored utensils and straws, Star-Spangled buckets for beer and refreshments, and a classic bottle of coke, all the while sitting on a beautiful yacht on a clear summer day. What can get more American than that? While not the most outlandish of decorations, as we’ve seen above, this understated and elegant America-themed-everything boat is one of the most patriotic displays we’ve seen yet.
There are clearly a lot of ways you can show U.S. support, some like flashy antics, some prefer a more traditional approach to show off their individual sense of patriotism, while some like flying crisp American flags from the bow of their boats or front porches at home. Everyone knows that, with patriotism, as with America, more is more! This family decided to paint their entire dock as an American flag to celebrate their love of country.
The Ultimate American Yacht: Ralph Lauren’s Super Yacht
To add a little sophistication to our patriotic American sea-faring vessels, Ralph Lauren has reserved a special place for his American iconography in his nautical designs. For him, the spirit of the sea evokes the spirit of America, both of which he uses to define his advertisements and overall style. Imagine a yacht decked in all things Ralph Lauren. From the furniture, to the bedding, to the hand towels.
The Lauren Yacht is decorated almost entirely in Ralph’s signature color, ocean blue. The paintings are all decorated with images of the sea, taken by Ralph himself, and they are displayed in gilded frames. Such is the appeal and allure for this American designer’s sense of the ocean, and, for a special price, Ralph Lauren’s home line has a special division dedicated entirely to interior yacht design.
Patriot Jet Boat
The Patriot or the Patriot Jet Boat, is a craft made for speed, and what more can be said? The name clearly speaks for itself. This isn’t your average tourist tug boat on July 4th weekend; it packs two turbo-charged engines which bolster an impressive 1,400 horsepower.
Meant for speed, The Patriot is also entirely decorated with the American flag, with red and white stripes undulating along the sides of the bow, making it seem like the flag is flowing alongside the water, while the beautiful blues and five-point stars decorate the stern in a way that screams speed and America!
If you’re ever in the San Diego area and want a tour of the bay while paying tribute to this great country, don’t pass up an opportunity to ride this speedy vixen, adorned with crimson red seats. It’s the perfect combination of boat, Americanism, and speed. Just be prepared for the ride of a lifetime!
What can be more patriotic than a yacht named America? It’s not exactly a warship used to defeat the Japanese or an American vessel that was employed to help defeat the British or French (as we will see on our list), but its American identity lies within its spirit of victory and innovation.
This pioneering schooner was designed by James Rich Steers and George Steers in the 1800s and was the first boat to win the coveted America’s Cup International Sailing Trophy. Its sleek design, speed, versatility, and ingenuity are all key principles that America was built upon—principles that eternally drive the country and the people to this day.
The USS Missouri, or, as the vessel is called by the men at the helm, “Big Mo” or “Mighty Mo,” is best remembered as an icon of the end of the Second World War. She was the ship which served as the state office to mark the end of World War II. This battleship acted as the stage between the American forces and the surrendered representatives of the Japanese Imperial Navy, to end World War II.
Besides being the backdrop for the signing and unconditional surrender of the Japanese, “Big Mo” had her fair share of action. Her active history includes participating in two battles just off the southern coast of Okinawa and Iwo Jima and, later, fighting in the Korean War in the early 50s.
She was the vessel that aided in the shooting down of Japanese military planes during her Okinawa campaign while acting as a bastion of resistance to slow down oncoming attackers. One thing became clear as the Pacific Theatre progressed—the USS Missouri was no pushover.
During the surrender ceremony in which the Japanese attended, a crisp, bright, 31-starred American flag sat high in the rafters above, watching the historic moment to end the greatest war known to date. Although originally decommissioned in 1955, she was reactivated and modernized in 1984. After her long life and active service, the USS Missouri was decommissioned once and for all, on March 31st, 1995. She now rests in a museum in Pearl Harbor.
Earning twenty battle stars and fighting in almost every major battle in the Pacific Theatre, “The Big E,” as she came to be known for short, was present during the attack on Pearl Harbor and was key in fighting back the Japanese Imperial Navy in the Pacific Ocean. She even suffered a massive hit by a kamikaze pilot that took the lives of fourteen sailors, but, just like the true American spirit which she embodies, she never sank.
By the end of the World War II, and with the advent of more advanced aircraft carriers, “Big E” became obsolete. Although many sought to preserve her legacy and opted for her to be showcased in a museum or memorial, the funds simply weren’t there.
She met her final end on July 1st, 1958 in New York City, as her parts were used for scrap. Her named lived on, though, as her eighth and final incarnation, in the naming of a fictional spaceship many may be familiar with, making the USS Enterprise one for the stars.
U.S.S. Constitution Ship
The USS Constitution ship is one for the records. Named after the Constitution of the United States of America, this ship is considered one of the world’s largest vessels that’s still afloat. The reason this beauty is renown in the US of A is due to her campaign against the United Kingdom in the war of 1812, in which she was responsible for apprehending and sinking dozens of British warships, namely the HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant.
Besides her more offensive military missions, she was also solely responsible for protecting American merchant ships during the Quasi-War with France. Her efforts were also enlisted to help defeat the Barbary pirates during the First Barbary War. With a large American flag displayed prominently on its stern and another one on the jackstaff (the pole in the bow of the ship which holds a maritime flag), the USS Constitution is a truly awe-inspiring vessel.
With unmatched bulk and demeanor, and with equipment to match, the USS Zumwalt is the largest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy. Looking like something out of a Star Wars movie, only in water, Zumwalt is the Navy’s most ambitious and offensive destroyer to date.
With state of the art weaponry, and a computer-guided missile system able to take out targets more than sixty miles away, it’s safe to say you don’t want to get on the bad side of this lean machine. In true American showmanship and strength, this recently completed destroyer is just another classic example of American exceptionalism—and an issue of warning: Anyone that dares to cross paths with her better tread carefully!
The emblem of the United States Marine Corps is one of the most recognizable symbols in America. The Corps accepts only the most elite, dedicated soldiers, and that dedication truly lasts a lifetime. Marines proudly display the Corps emblem on their vehicles, their clothing and even their skin!
The flag of the Marine Corps flies outside homes across the country, showing support for the members of this elite group that protects our country. While the flag displays the iconic emblem, there are also other important features to understand on this proud banner and the history behind its creation. Continue reading →
Of all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Navy may be the most diverse. Everyone thinks of the Navy as just sailors, protecting our country from the deck of a ship, but the Navy has a rich intelligence branch, a naval air force and a special operations force, the Navy SEALS.
The brave men and women who serve our country in the Navy are much more than sailors patrolling our waters. With their prestigious history of service, it is fitting that the Navy has a flag as proud as their servicemen. Continue reading →
The U.S. Coast Guard is often forgotten in a discussion of the American military, but they play a vital role in guarding and protecting the waters of the United States. They embark on hundreds of lifesaving search and rescue missions for boaters and sailors in distress. While nearly everyone is familiar with the flags for larger branches of the American military, the Coast Guard flag often goes unrecognized even though it has a long and proud tradition of faithful Americans serving under its banner.
One of the most common symbols we see today is The Jolly Roger, which is found on children’s toys, holiday decorations, and even sports team logos, such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and which replaced the crossbones with swords and a football to represent their team in a unique way. Continue reading →
Did that get your attention? It should have, because that motion with the flags in that position is the internationally designated semaphore signal for “Attention!” It also means “Error,” but we can skip that for now.
Semaphore flags are the end result of a signaling system developed in the late 1600s by Robert Hooke (of microscope fame). He presented it to the Royal Society, but they failed to do anything with it. A century later, it was adapted and used by Claude Chappe in France, eventually covering much of the country and allowing for very rapid transmission of information across vast distances.
Chappe’s design was a tower with a large crossbar at the top, with arms at either end that each could be arranged in seven different positions. The crossbar itself could assume four different positions, allowing for a total of 196 different configurations. This allowed for a sophisticated system of phrases and messages to be sent to another tower within extreme visual distance, which would then copy it, allowing the next tower to copy it, and so on.
These towers were so successful that the French government initially rejected Samuel Morse’s telegraph on the basis that the wires could be too easily cut. Eventually, of course, they fell out of favor, largely because they were pretty much useless at night, and when they could be seen, everyone could see them, so secret signals were suddenly no longer as much so.
Before that time, though, they inspired the development of the smaller version used shipboard to great effect. Those were flags, and that’s why we’re here.
Semaphore flags are (if on a ship) red and yellow or (if on land) blue and white. The colors are split diagonally with the red hoist-side and on top. (Although the colors don’t matter: the land-based version is blue with a white square in the center. It’s just to make the arm position more obvious.)
The arm position is what gives the letter – or numeral, depending on what you need to signal. The flags do not overlap unless they are in the “rest” or “space” position, in which case they are directly in front of the signaler with both arms straight down. The alphabet is laid out similarly to a wheel: each arm can take one of eight positions, and the combination of the positions of the two arms denotes the letter. Six of the letters require an arm to be brought across the body so the flags are on the same side, and there is a unique signal to denote that the signaler is switching to numbers. (The switch back to letters is denoted by signaling “J”.)
Starting in the rest position with both flags in the down position, the right arm rising to low gives “A”, and rises a quarter-rotation for B, C, and D. Then the right arm drops back to down, the left arm goes to the high position for “E” and follows down to “G”.
Easy enough, right? Then “H” is done by the right hand being straight out and the left hand going across to the low position underneath. Keep your left hand there for “I” while raising the right hand up to the high position. Skip “J” for now; “K” continues the same circle except for convenience’s sake you swap arms. That is to say, right hand in the low position, left hand in the up position. “L” through “N” continue the sweep, then you move your right hand up one more to straight out and cross your left hand over again. Then the pattern continues – it’s actually much easier than it sounds from just reading it.
We did imply we would come back to “J”. That’s a unique position where your right hand is straight up and your left hand is straight out. This may seem odd, but it’s a consequence of assigning numbers to the first series of letters; the signal to switch back has to be significantly different so the intent is clear.
Semaphore is not outdated quite yet; it has significant use as a quick signaling system for areas – such as in the mountains or onboard ship – where visual clarity is good but the distance between participants may be too great for verbal clarity. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have used it (without flags, unfortunately) for years in such situations.
Of course, the most famous use of semaphore is probably Monty Python’s depiction of the classic British pastime of reciting Wuthering Heights completely in semaphore, as Emily Bronte probably originally wished.
The open ocean has undeniable appeal, especially in today’s hectic, loud, busy world. The simplicity of a valiant sailing ship running before a brisk wind in silent elegance encapsulates a glorious idea of escape. One does not often find a quiet haven disturbed only by the rush of wind and water and the crying of seabirds. Even better, when it enables you to explore the greater world around you in unexpected and glorious ways. Full sails and salt spray hearken back to the earliest adventurers and traders looking upon the mysterious shores of a New World.
Modern day sailing is an interesting and challenging art that requires both physical effort and careful study—and is becoming more and more popular as a delightful warm-weather hobby. The perennial popularity of the Boston Sailing School on the Charles River in Massachusetts is testimony; children of all ages learn to set sail and love the open water. Each year hundreds of young people grapple with every level of challenge, from beginners to advanced racing techniques, and even nighttime navigation.
The Eastern Seaboard teems with opportunities for unique adventure, far from the dubious delights of fast food and social media. Sailing, it seems, can be for almost everyone, as these sea-going beauties come in all sizes. Even tiny solo sailboats command as much respect as luxurious multi-bedroom yachts when it comes to sheer accomplishment and skill. In one respect, however, they all have a beautifully uniting feature: They all fly colors.
A flag is an identity at sea, a statement of who you are and where you are from. One flies the flag of one’s country in pride and honor, but there is also a vibrant, beautiful language of smaller flags utilizing an internationally recognized code for communication. Using 26 pennons to represent the letters of the alphabet that are described in NATO phonetic terms (A=alpha, B=bravo, C=charlie, etc.) these small, brilliant flags help international ships pass quick, efficient messages.
Making the whole concept a little more complex is the idea that each of those letter flags also has a specific meaning in and of itself, so “A” is also “diver down, keep clear.” A celebration of Tall Ships would hardly be the same without the brilliant buntings training from the mast. It’s also fascinating to see the messages they post for other ships to see—a conversation right in front of us that only very few know how to interpret.
International Code Flags at AmericanFlags.com
Luckily enough, AmericanFlags.com carries the entire 40 piece package of these International Code flags. The total 26 piece alphabet is supplemented with the complete eleven piece set of numeric flags, an answer flag, and three “spacers” to help with signal clarity. Though the mastery of this art requires diligence and persistence, the effect of sailing into port with the Stars and Stripes billowing and a carefully worded “Happy 4th of July” has an undeniable cachet. Not only does a sailing vessel look more festive with international code flags, they also instill a sense of pride in one’s self for mastering a unique form of communication. A little bit of satisfied smugness could be justified from such a display of unusual artistry.
Carefully constructed of long wearing, double seamed nylon, these International Code flags are available in six different sizes to suit the magnitude of your vessel. American made and tested by AmericanFlags.com ourselves, these flags are guaranteed to last and stay beautiful. Appropriate ropes and fittings are included with each set, as is a durable storage duffle to keep your collection safe and organized.
Colors are brilliantly dyed, fade-resistant, and of internationally approved combinations and patterns. Designed to withstand the harsh conditions found at sea, this attractive collection can also be used to add flair and identity to the homes of proud Navy families, and is a beautiful, patriotic addition to the Stars and Stripes.
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