National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

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NOAA Service Flag

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was created on October 3, 1970, by the merger of a number of scientific agencies within the Department of Commerce, including the nation's oldest such organization, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, founded in 1807 as the Survey of the Coast, as well as the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries from the Department of the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers' U.S. Lake Survey.  NOAA includes the National Ocean Survey, the National Weather Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and a variety of other agencies.  It is staffed in part by a small corps of commissioned officers who hold naval rank and wear Navy-style uniforms as well as a much larger civil service workforce.  It operates some 15 ocean-going research vessels, officered by the 265-strong commissioned NOAA Corps and crewed by civil service mariners. 

The Coast and Geodetic Survey was authorized a distinguishing flag, blue with a red triangle on a white disk, on January 16, 1899.  The design was emblematic of the triangulation method used in surveying.  The current NOAA service flag, normally displayed at the masthead of the forwardmost mast as a distinctive mark of a NOAA vessel in commission, was adapted from the Coast and Geodetic Survey flag by adding the NOAA emblem, a two-tone blue circle with the silhouette of a seabird in white, on the center.  On single-masted vessels, the service flag flies immediately beneath the commission pennant or personal flag of a civilian official or flag officer.  NOAA vessels display the national ensign and union jack in the same manner as those of the Navy and Coast Guard, and follow the movements of the senior Navy or Coast Guard vessel if present together in the same port.

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NOAA Commission Pennant

Like commissioned ships of the Navy and Coast Guard, those of NOAA fly a commission pennant at the masthead of the aftermost mast 24 hours a day.  The only exception is when the flag of a senior civilian official or a flag officer is displayed in its place.  The NOAA commission pennant is the same as that of the old Coast and Geodetic Survey and comes in three sizes:  15 feet with 13 red triangles in the hoist, nine feet with seven triangles (shown), and four feet with seven triangles.

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NOAA Commissioned Corps

This flag was adopted in 2002 to represent NOAA's commissioned officer corps as a uniformed service, as opposed to NOAA itself as an agency that includes both commissioned and civilian personnel. Like the similar flags of the other uniformed services, it is used for ceremonial purposes and indoor display, not flown from a fixed pole or aboard ship.

Senior Civilian Officials

As is the case with the Navy and Coast Guard, NOAA vessels and installations display the personal flags of the President or Vice President, the senior officials of their parent department and the top civilian and military officials of the organization when such officials visit NOAA installations or ships.  In the case of NOAA, the parent department is the Department of Commerce, which authorizes the use of personal flags for officials of secretarial rank as well as the heads of the department's primary operating units.  As with many other departments of the federal government, these flags show the central device of the departmental seal with a star in each corner, the colors of the field and the charges varying from one rank of official to another.  In addition, civilian officials within NOAA have their own distinctive personal flags based on the administration's service flag.  These flags are flown at the head of the aftermost mast in lieu of the commission pennant or flag officer's flag when a senior official visits a NOAA ship.


The Administrator of NOAA is concurrently Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, by protocol the equivalent of a four-star admiral. The Administrator's flag is the same as the service flag with the addition of a white star in each corner.  For indoor and parade display, this flag comes in a special 52 by 66 inch size with a golden yellow fringe, cord, and tassels.  When displayed from a staff, including in a boat, it is topped by a halberd finial.  The Administrator is also entitled to use the flag of an Under Secretary of Commerce.

Deputy Administrator

The Deputy Administrator's position equates to that of an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, also equivalent to four-star rank.  The Deputy's flag is the same as the Administrator's but with the stars in red instead of white, and like the Administrator's is mounted on a staff with a halberd finial.

Chief Scientist

The chief scientist of NOAA flies a flag similar to that of the Deputy Administrator, but with three stars in a vertical line in the hoist.  Depending on the chief scientist's paygrade within the Senior Executive Service, the flagstaff is topped with either a halberd or a ball.

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Flag Officers

The Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, consisting of some 250 officers, is the smallest of the United States' seven uniformed services.  Its grade structure normally goes up only to (two-star) rear admiral, but provision is made in the NOAA flag directive (NOAA Adminisrative Order 201-6) for a three-star vice admiral's flag, used on those occasions when a uniformed officer is appointed to a more senior administrative position in the organization and promoted on that basis to three-star rank.  The flags shown below are in the proportions used aboard ship and on fixed flagpoles.  They also exist in the standard ceremonial size of 52 by 66 inches, in which case they are trimmed with golden yellow fringe, cords, and tassels.  The flagstaff ornament for all NOAA Corps flag officers is a halberd.

Vice Admiral

As of 2015, NOAA has one vice admiral, who serves as Deputy Under Secretary for Operations.

Rear Admiral

The Director of the NOAA Commissioned Corps, double-hatted as Director of Marine and Aviation Operations, is the service's only two-star admiral.  The flag, a triangle flanked by two white stars, is the same as that used by the director of the former Coast and Geodetic Survey before its merger into NOAA.

Rear Admiral (Lower Half)

This is the most recent in a series of one-star flags that were first created in 1982 when Congress established the position of commodore admiral in the Navy, Coast Guard, and NOAA Corps.  The flag shown reflects the final resolution in 1985 to restore the traditional rank of rear admiral (lower half) but with a one-star rather than two-star rank insignia and flag. There are currently two officers of this rank in the NOAA Corps.


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