to dress ship

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To deck out a vessel with flags for a ceremonial occasion. A ship can be either dressed overall or with flags at the masthead. A ship is only dressed overall in harbour while masthead flags are normally worn when under way in, or in the vicinity of, a harbour, though it is allowed as an alternative to dressing overall if the vessel does not have dressing lines.

A vessel is dressed overall only by flying the flags of the International Code of Signals, and no others should be used. These are strung on dressing lines from the bow, or from below the bow in the USA, to the masthead, from masthead to masthead if the vessel has more than one mast, and from the masthead, or after masthead, to the taffrail, or, in the USA, the water below it. There is a recommended order for doing this which spaces the code's triangular flags and pennants between its rectangular flags, and this gives a pleasant contrast in colours.

The vessel's ensign is worn at its usual position, and the same ensign is usually also flown at each masthead. In the UK the burgee of a yacht's yacht club is flown side by side with the appropriate ensign at the principal masthead. Strictly speaking, if someone aboard the vessel is a flag officer of a yacht club, then his flag officer's burgee is flown on the main mast without the ensign, though ensigns are flown on any other masts. If a vessel displays more than one ensign it is important that they are of the same design. The correct jack must also be flown on the jackstaff.

Vessels dress ship on special days like Independence Day in the USA and the sovereign's official birthday in the UK. If dressing ship for a local occasion such as a regatta or a launching ceremony a yacht's club burgee is flown at the main masthead without an ensign, though the ensign should be flown at any other masthead and the correct jack flown on the jackstaff.

The procedure for dressing with masthead flags is the same but without dressing lines.

Where dressing for foreign national festivals, in the UK or elsewhere, a vessel flies the ensign of the country whose festival is being celebrated. It is flown with a yacht's club burgee at the masthead if the yacht has only one mast, and at the mizzen masthead in ketches and yawls, and on the foremast of a schooner. Despite this rule it is probably better to fly the ensign of the guest country at the masthead when there is only one mast, and the club burgee at the crosstrees or spreader.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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