United States Merchant Marine

U.S. Merchant Marine Flag

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About the U.S. Merchant Marine Flag

This flag, intended to commemorate the past and present contributions of merchant seamen to the security and prosperity of the United States, was introduced by the Maritime Administration of the Department of Transportation on May 24, 1994.  For parade and indoor display, it is either 52 by 66 inches (as shown) or 36 by 48 inches, and trimmed with golden yellow fringe.  The flag is also produced in bunting in the 36 by 48 inch size (without fringe) to be hoisted on a fixed outdoor pole.  It is displayed in this form at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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Rules of Flag Usage in the Merchant Marine

Although never prescribed by law or regulation, the following set of guidelines set forth by the U.S. Merchant Marine Council in 1950 provide an authoritative statement of the customary rules.

  • In the United States:

  • In a Foreign Country:
  • Saluting Warships: When passing a warship of any country recognized by the United States, including Coast Guard cutters, the merchant ship's U.S. ensign is lowered halfway down the gaff halyard or halfway down the flagstaff when the two ships come abeam of each other. When the warship returns the salute by dipping its ensign briefly, the merchant vessel hoists its ensign full up and proceeds.
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    Merchant Marine Naval Reserve

    The Naval Reserve Merchant Marine pennant is flown at a signal halyard in port aboard ships that have been warranted by the Secretary of the Navy to be suitable for wartime use as naval auxiliaries.  The master of the ship and at least half of its licensed officers must be members of the U.S. Naval Reserve.  The pennant was originally prescribed by Navy Department General Order 285, dated April 14, 1917.  The current statutory authorization for the pennant is contained in Title 10, U.S. Code, section 7225.

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    AMVER Program

    The Automoted Mutual-assistance Vessel Rescue System (AMVER) is a voluntary program under which merchant vessels of any country report their positions to the U.S. Coast Guard on a continuing basis for the purpose of facilitating emergency response--either to an emergency aboard the reporting vessel or, more to the point, so that the Coast Guard will be able to vector vessels in the area more expeditiously to respond to a call for help from another craft.  It was originally known as the Atlantic Marine Vessel Emergency Reporting System.  Merchant ships that participate in the program for prescribed periods of time are eligible to display AMVER pennants.  To qualify, a ship must be on the Coast Guard's AMVER plot at least 128 days out of a calendar year.  A vessel that meets this standard in a given calendar year receives a blue pennant.  One that qualifies for five consecutive years receives a gold pennant, and a ship that participates for ten consecutive years a purple pennant.  Overhaul periods do not break the qualification for the gold and purple pennant, provided the time in the yard is less than two years and the ship is a continuous participant before and after the yard period.  In 1998, 4,095 ships from 143 nations qualified for one of these awards out of some 12,000 total participants--about 40% of the worldwide merchant fleet.  During that year, there were an average of 2,776 ships on the AMVER plot on any given day and the system was responsible for saving 238 lives.

    1-year pennant

    5-year pennant

    10-year pennant

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