Etiquette at sea, it matters. Pietro Palloni*, one of the foremost experts on sailing and the art of seamanship, knows something about this. A lifelong sailor, he was president of the Rimini Sailing Club for 25 years. From an oversight (we had published this article forgetting to cite as a source his book “Flags & Etiquette” published in 2011 by the Club Nautico di Rimini, reprinted 2018 by Panozzo Editore) came the opportunity for this interview on a topic often overlooked by the boater.
Label at sea. What you need to know
What rules are least observed by the yachtsman when it comes to flags and etiquette?
The actual naval etiquette is well codified in the case of naval vessels; in recreation, etiquette is a simple thing, corresponding to formulas of courtesy and seafaring tradition.
The most frequent errors are found in the flags, either misplaced or left halfway up the halyard. Flags are to be hoisted up to the cocked block on the cross, or at the head of the flagpole. Another mistake is hoisting multiple social guidons on the same halyard, which should never be placed on top of each other. In port, if the crew is on board, it is proper to leave the flag hoisted; otherwise, when the boat is dismasted, the pennants and flag should be lowered.
Tender to trailer and hanging fenders, yes or no?
Arriving at the berth with the tender in tow is a British tradition. Instead, it is an error in etiquette to tow the tender under sail. The fenders left hanging along the side are an eyesore, but this is more a matter of aesthetics than seamanship: the sailboat is designed to sail with loose broadside.
How do you greet another unit at sea, flags or bows?
The military ship should always be saluted by all other units. The pleasure craft to salute must lower its flag to half-mast and wait for transit at the crossing, the naval vessel in turn responds by lowering its flag to half-mast, and past the crossing hoists it first. Sail bowing is an alternative maneuver. You lower the halyard of the jib, wait for the transit of the larger ship, and afterwards hoist the jib again to proceed to navigation.
The flag with the glass and mooring lines on the neighbor’s boat?
The blue flag with the white glass is used to cordially invite guests aboard: it is an English tradition from which we inherit almost all naval etiquette, such as courtesy to other crews. In this sense, before placing mooring lines on the broadside of someone else’s boat one must, ask permission.
Always remember that tradition is also substance, so etiquette, boat care and following seafaring rules go hand in hand: as the saying goes, “a good boat makes a good sailor.”
Who better represents tradition and etiquette on board?
The Italian Yacht Club takes great care to pass on traditions. Other clubs, such as YC Adriaco in Trieste and Circolo del Remo e della Vela Italia in Naples, are the most attentive clubs. I, too, when I was president of the Rimini Sailing Club tried to enforce etiquette…
Are the culture of etiquette and seamanship being somewhat neglected today?
The tradition of etiquette is often left to its own devices; courses at many sailing schools, as well as courses for the “boat license,” often no longer teach the tradition of flag-raising. When I learned as a boy on the Dragoons and the Stars, the culture of the flag and the rules of seamanship were a fundamental part of the training.
*Who is Peter Palloni
Pietro Palloni, author of the book Flags and Etiquette is one of Italy’s leading experts on etiquette at sea.
In addition to the volume mentioned above, Pietro Palloni has also published two books of sea stories ‘Conchiglie di memoria’ published by Mare di Carta in 2016 and the very recent ‘Pezzi di Sale’ published by Panozzo editore in 2023. (photo by Andrea Valentini).