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Civil ensign

Civil ensign

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The civil ensign
Ensign
An ensign is a national flag when used at sea, in vexillology, or a distinguishing token, emblem, or badge, such as a symbol of office in heraldry...

(also known as merchant flag or merchant ensign) is the national flag
National flag
A national flag is a flag that symbolizes a country. The flag is flown by the government, but usually can also be flown by citizens of the country.Both public and private buildings such as schools and courthouses may fly the national flag...

 flown by civil ships (merchant ships and others, as opposed to military) to denote nationality. Countries may have a national flag for most purposes on land, a distinct civil ensign for non-military ships, and a naval ensign for the navy; sometimes two or all of these flags are identical.

In most countries there was originally no distinction between the flag for armed state
Sovereign state
A sovereign state, or simply, state, is a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood to be a state which is neither...

 ships (navy
Navy
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

) and private owned, usually unarmed ships (merchant marine). Today many countries, including the USA
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and France
Flag of France
The national flag of France is a tricolour featuring three vertical bands coloured royal blue , white, and red...

, continue the practice of having a single national flag for all or most purposes.

In other countries a distinction is made between the land flag and the civil and naval ensigns. Most notable for the elaborate flag system is the United Kingdom
British ensigns
This article concerns the ensigns flown by vessels and aircraft of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories, and by certain nations of the Commonwealth....

, that uses the Union flag
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

 on land, (inter alia
Inter Alia
-Track listing:# Inter Alia# Outfox'd # Righteous Badass # The Altogether feat. Bix, Apt, UNIVERSE ARM and Cal# The Day-to-Daily# Trouble Brewing # The Prestidigitator# The Force...

) the Red Ensign
Red Ensign
The Red Ensign or "Red Duster" is a flag that originated in the early 17th century as a British ensign flown by the Royal Navy and later specifically by British merchantmen. The precise date of its first appearance is not known, but surviving receipts indicate that the Navy was paying to have such...

 for merchant ships, and the White Ensign
White Ensign
The White Ensign or St George's Ensign is an ensign flown on British Royal Navy ships and shore establishments. It consists of a red St George's Cross on a white field with the Union Flag in the upper canton....

 for the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

.

Countries having specific civil ensigns


The civil ensigns that are different from the "general" national flag, can be grouped into a number of categories.

Red Ensigns after the British pattern


These are red flags with, in most cases, the respective national flag or Union Flag
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

 in the canton, patterned after the British Red Ensign
Red Ensign
The Red Ensign or "Red Duster" is a flag that originated in the early 17th century as a British ensign flown by the Royal Navy and later specifically by British merchantmen. The precise date of its first appearance is not known, but surviving receipts indicate that the Navy was paying to have such...

. British overseas territories
British overseas territories
The British Overseas Territories are fourteen territories of the United Kingdom which, although they do not form part of the United Kingdom itself, fall under its jurisdiction. They are remnants of the British Empire that have not acquired independence or have voted to remain British territories...

 either fly the plain Red Ensign or a Red Ensign with the respective colonial arms in the fly.

Civil ensign that vary greatly from the national flag


Several countries have civil ensigns that are very different from the national flag, for instance Malta
Flag of Malta
The Flag of Malta is a basic bi-colour, with white in the hoist and red in the fly: colours from the blazon of the arms of Malta. Tradition states that the colours of the flag were given to Malta by Count Roger of Sicily, in 1091...

 and Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg
The flag of Luxembourg consists of three horizontal stripes, red, white and blue, and can be in 1:2 or 3:5 ratio. It was first used between 1845 and 1848 and officially adopted on June 23, 1972....

.

Civil ensigns consisting of the national flag with an additional emblem


Well-known examples are the Italian civil ensign
Flag of Italy
The flag of Italy is a tricolour featuring three equally sized vertical pales of green, white, and red, with the green at the hoist side...

 showing the shield with the arms of the sea republics or the Polish civil ensign
Flag of Poland
The flag of Poland consists of two horizontal stripes of equal width, the upper one white and the lower one red. The two colors are defined in the Polish constitution as the national colors. A variant of the flag with the national coat of arms in the middle of the white stripe is legally reserved...

 with the arms of Poland. Most of these emblems were added to distinguish the ensign from similar flags of other countries.

Simplified national flags


In several (Spain and much of Spanish Latin America, and some European) countries there are two main versions of the flag, a simpler one (usually a striped flag) and a more elaborate one with the national arms. The simpler one is used as civil ensign (and in most cases also as civil flag), whereas the version with the arms is mainly used by the government and the military. In Spain
Flag of Spain
The flag of Spain , as it is defined in the Spanish Constitution of 1978, consists of three horizontal stripes: red, yellow and red, the yellow stripe being twice the size of each red stripe...

 and Argentina
Flag of Argentina
The national flag of Argentina is a triband, composed of three equally wide horizontal bands coloured light blue, white and light blue. There are multiple interpretations on the reasons for those colors...

 the flag without the arms is only a variant for civil use; the national flag is used also as a civil ensign. In El Salvador
Flag of El Salvador
The flag of El Salvador was inspired by the flag of the Federal Republic of Central America, and by the flag of Argentina, the country that sent one of the first fleets to help consummate the independence of Central American republics from Spain....

, the civil ensign also differs from the national flag in the proportions.

Civil ensigns differing from the national flag in the proportions


Several former British colonies use 1:2 as a proportion for their ensigns and 3:5 for flags ashore, whereas Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary have it the other way around, with ensigns at 2:3 and flags ashore at 1:2. France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

is a special case: the overall proportion is the same, but the bands on the ensign differ in width slightly.