Blue Ensign

With regards to Mr Hollman’s enquiry in the June 2016 issue of Sea Breezes. In the 19th Century, vessels with an RNR Captain as master and up to ten crew of RNR origin were allowed, under warrant, to fly a Blue Ensign.

Ships were required to carry two guns for crew training. The additional crew requirement of 10 had a beneficial effect on employment, for those of naval origin, as without the numbers so qualified; the Master couldn’t have his Flag. The Blue Ensign was also assigned to large vessels identified as being suitable as Armed Merchant Cruisers irrespective of crewing.

The crewing requirements, over years, were slowly whittled down to a Captain and two ratings due to the large numbers of non-nationals on British liners of all sizes to the Far East. During the World Wars, as most crews were in service, warrants were suspended. After conflict, Blue Ensign awards resumed, but conditions were less onerous requiring a Master and six crew to be RNR qualified. Between 1947 and 1965, regulations were continually lessened, as in the case of foreign crews mentioned above, so that in 1965 only the Master, in his own right, had to qualify for the Blue Ensign. As regards to numbers, 162 warrants were issued up to 1938 and some 48 were cancelled. Between 1947, when warrants resumed, and 1951, some 38 were issued and 11 were cancelled.

“If the officer relinquishes command or the vessel is sold, the Blue Ensign is to be struck”

In 1953, Blue Ensign eligibility was extended to Home Trade and the fishing fleet, however there were no applications. The new regulations of 2005 requires a British merchant vessel to have a master of at least Lieutenant rank RNR/RMR or Capt RM/RMR in any of the Maritime services of Britain or the Overseas territories. If the officer relinquishes command or the vessel is sold, the Blue Ensign is to be struck. The same rules apply to fishing vessels, but they must have four crew who are reservists or Pensioners of Maritime Services.

The Blue Ensign is also awarded to many designated Royal Yacht Clubs in the UK and in overseas territories and former colonies. It is also the official flag of certain maritime Government Agencies emblazoned with a suitable badge, eg Customs Services etc. As of now, there is no register published of those entitled to fly the Blue Ensign. The matter is policed by any Commanding officer of one of HM ships, who may have a vessel, flying a Blue Ensign boarded, to ascertain if it is being flown to a proper warrant. If illegal, the flag is seized and the matter reported to the Director of Naval Reserves.

1 Cathedral Walk, Cloyne
Co Cork, Ireland
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