Australian Maritime Safety Authority

National colours for Australian ships' (flags)

The purpose of this page is to outline the requirements relating to the flying of the national colours from Australian ships. The requirements are detailed in sections 29 and 30 of the Shipping Registration Act 1981 and Regulation 22 of the Shipping Registration Regulations 1981.

National colours

Description of ship Red Ensign National Flag
Registered ships
Ship that is required to be registered*
Yes
No
Foreign owned ship on demise charter to an Australian based operator
Yes
No
Pleasure craft
Yes
Yes
Fishing vessel
Yes
Yes
Government ship
Yes
Yes
Ship less than 24 metres in tonnage length
Yes
Yes
Small craft** wholly owned by residents of Australia
Yes
Yes
Small craft** solely operated by residents of Australia
Yes
Yes
Unregistered ships
Unregistered ships that are required to be registered*
No
No
Other unregistered ships
Yes
Yes

Times at which a flag is required to be flown

Type of ship When
Registered ships that are required to be registered*, and

Foreign ships on demise charter to an Australian based operator

1. Entering, leaving, and underway within any port in daylight, and

2. While berthed or at anchor in a port during the period commencing 8 o'clock in the morning on a day and ending at sunset on that day

All other ships (except unregistered ships that are required to be registered*) Entering, leaving, and underway within a foreign port in daylight
  • *A ship is required to be registered if it is a majority Australian owned commercial or trading ship of 24 metres or more on tonnage length.
  • **A small craft is one that is less than 12 metres in overall length.

Alternative flags

While in Australian waters an alternative flag may be flown at times when a flag is required to be flown (the relevant times are listed below). However, at those times the ship must be currently entitled to fly the alternative flag.

The alternative flags are:

  • the British Blue Ensign

(This ensign may be flown as an alternative flag if a warrant from Her Majesty or the Admiralty was in force authorizing its use by the ship before 26 January 1982, and section 73 of the British Merchant Shipping Act 1894 is in force at the time the ensign is used as an alternative flag, and the flying of the ensign at the relevant time is authorized by the warrant.)

  • a particular flag under the authority of the Flags Act 1953
  • a particular flag of a State or Territory.

While in waters outside Australian waters, no alternative flags are permitted to be flown.

Positions at which a flag is to be flown

The national flag or red ensign must be flown at the stern, or if this is not practicable because of the ship's design or use, as near as practicable to the stern. Where there is no stern, the flag must be flown in a position approved by the Registrar.

Only one of the flags mentioned here (national flag, red ensign or an alternative flag) may be flown at any one time.

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