Blue Ensign

The Blue Ensign is a flag, one of several British ensigns, used by certain organisations or territories associated or formerly associated with the United Kingdom. It is used either plain or defaced with a badge or other emblem.

Blue Ensign
UseState ensign
AdoptedBritish Government
DesignBlue with the Union occupying one quarter of the field and placed in the canton.
RFA Brambleleaf flying the square Blue Jack based on the Blue Ensign

The evolution of the Blue Ensign followed that of the Union Jack. The ensign originated in the 17th century with the St George's cross (the Flag of England) in the canton, and with a blue field.

The Acts of Union 1707 united England and Wales with Scotland in the Kingdom of Great Britain, thus producing a new Blue Ensign with the new Union Flag in the canton. With the Act of Union 1800, Ireland became a part of the new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and St Patrick's Cross was incorporated into the Union Flag and, accordingly, into the cantons of all British ensigns from 1 January 1801.

Plain blue ensign

Prior to the reorganisation of the Royal Navy in 1864, the plain blue ensign had been the ensign of one of three squadrons of the Royal Navy, the Blue Squadron. This changed in 1864, when an order in council provided that the Red Ensign was allocated to merchantmen, the Blue Ensign was to be the flag of ships in public service or commanded by an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, and the White Ensign was allocated to the Navy.

Thus, after 1864, the plain blue ensign (i.e., without any defacement or modification) is permitted to be worn, instead of the Red Ensign, by three categories of civilian vessel:[1]

  1. British merchant vessels whose officers and crew include a certain number of retired Royal Navy personnel or Royal Naval Reservists, or are commanded by an officer of the Royal Naval Reserve in possession of a Government warrant. The number and rank of such crew members required has varied over the years, as have the additional conditions required, since the system was first introduced in 1864.
  2. Royal Research Ships by warrant[lower-alpha 1] whether crewed by former Royal Navy personnel or Merchant Navy personnel.
  3. British-registered yachts belonging to members of the following yacht clubs:[2]

Permission for yachts to wear the blue ensign (and other special yachting ensigns) was suspended during both World War I and World War II.

Defaced blue ensign

Since 1864, the Blue Ensign is defaced with a badge or emblem, to form the ensign of United Kingdom government departments or public bodies. Current defaced Blue Ensigns (besides yacht clubs listed below) are:

Aberdeen Harbour Board
Border Force
British Antarctic Survey
British Broadcasting Corporation
British Telecom and Cable & Wireless
Combined Cadet Force (Naval Section)
Department of Trade and Industry
General Post Office
Global Marine Systems's cable-ships
Government Service Ensign
Her Majesty's Army Vessels
Her Majesty's Coastguard
Commissioners of Irish Lights
Lloyd's of London
Marine Society
Mersey Docks and Harbour Company
Metropolitan Police
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Ministry of Defence Police
Ministry of War Munitions
Northern Lighthouse Board
Ocean Weather Service
Ordnance Board
Pacific Cables Board
Port of London Authority
Royal Army Service Corps
Royal Engineers Divers
Royal Engineers
Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service
Royal Hospital School
Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service
Royal Ulster Constabulary
Scottish Government
Marine Scotland
Sea Cadet Corps
Submarine Mining Service
Welsh Government
Marine and Fisheries Division

Yachting Blue Ensigns defaced by the badge of the club were recorded in the Navy List until 1985, and now they are administered by the Royal Yachting Association for the Ministry of Defence. Current defaced Blue Ensigns are:[3]

Aldeburgh Yacht Club
Army Sailing Association
Bar Yacht Club
City Livery Yacht Club
HMS Conway
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia
Household Division Yacht Club
Little Ship Club
Little Ship Club (Queensland Squadron)
Medway Cruising Club
Old Worcesters Yacht Club
Parkstone Yacht Club
Rochester Cruising Yacht Club
Royal Air Force Yacht Club
Royal Akarana Yacht Club
Royal Anglesey Yacht Club
Royal Armoured Corps Yacht Club
Royal Artillery Yacht Club
Royal Australian Navy Sailing Association
Royal Bermuda Yacht Club
Royal Bombay Yacht Club
Royal Burnham Yacht Club
Royal Channel Islands Yacht Club
Royal Corinthian Yacht Club
Royal Cornwall Yacht Club
Royal Dee Yacht Club
Royal Forth Yacht Club
Royal Fresh Water Bay Yacht Club
Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club
Royal Hamilton Yacht Club
Royal Harwich Yacht Club
Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht Club
Royal Jamaica Yacht Club
Royal London Yacht Club
Royal Malta Yacht Club
Royal Mersey Yacht Club
Royal Motor Yacht Club of New South Wales
Royal Nassau Sailing Club
Royal Natal Yacht Club
Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club
Royal Northumberland Yacht Club
Royal Ocean Racing Club
Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht Club
Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club
Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club
Royal Southampton Yacht Club
Royal Suva Yacht Club
Royal Torbay Yacht Club
Royal Ulster Yacht Club
Royal Welsh Yacht Club
Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club
Severn Motor Yacht Club
Sussex Yacht Club
Thames Motor Yacht Club
The Cruising Association
The House of Lords Yacht Club
The Medway Yacht Club
The Poole Harbour Yacht Club
The Poole Yacht Club

Flags of the Crown Dependencies using defaced blue ensigns

Flags of British Overseas Territories using defaced blue ensigns

Current flags:

Former flags:

The defaced blue ensign was formerly used as:

National flags based on the Blue Ensign

These include:

Other flags based on the Blue Ensign

See also


  1. An individual warrant is issued by the Secretary of State for Defence for each ship
  1. Naval Staff Directorate. "Naval Flags and Ensigns" (PDF). p. 12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  2. UK Ministry of Defence. "The Navy Directory 2019" (PDF). p. 30. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  3. UK Ministry of Defence. "The Navy Directory 2019" (PDF). p. 31. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  4. "Flags of the Royal Canadian Navy 1910–1965".
  5. Flags of the World: British India