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Dictionary of Vexillology: J (Jack - Jolly Roger)

Last modified: 2006-09-30 by phil nelson
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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A flag, originally much smaller than the ensign, flown from a staff at the bow of a ship, usually when that ship is berthed, at anchor or moored to a buoy, occasionally when underway but always when dressed overall, and which in current usage may fall into one of the three main categories listed below (see also ‘dress ship’, ‘jack of honour’, ‘jack staff’, ‘privateer jack’ and ‘union jack’) See supplemental note:
Civil Jack
Flown at the bow of a merchant ship,

Please note, however, there are only two countries who prescribe a distinctive jack for general use by civilian vessels – the UK (see ‘pilot jack’) and the Bahamas as illustrated below. Sweden, for example, specifies regional flags, whilst the flags of home ports are sometimes officially used and the regulations of some shipping lines call for a house or other flag with this, upon occasion, being expressly permitted under national legislation.

[Civil Jack]
Civil Jack of the Bahamas (fotw)

Government Jack
Generally, but not exclusively, limited to the UK and former British colonies, and flown at the bow by those civilian-manned Government vessels.

[UK Government jack]
Government Jack of the UK (fotw)

Please note that in UK usage all the defaced blue ensigns used by Government service vessels are legally entitled to fly a blue jack with an appropriate badge in the fly, however, (as far as can be discovered) only the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as illustrated above and the Royal Maritime Auxiliary actually do so at present.

Please note also that in Germany and Austria, Government (as well as civilian) vessels often fly the flag of the relevant state/province.

Naval Jack
Flown at the bow of a warship, often the appropriate national flag (or a variation of it), occasionally the same as the naval ensign, or sometimes a completely different design.

[Russian naval jack]
Naval Jack of Russia (fotw)

In French naval usage, a jack originally flown in place of le tricolore by ships that had served in the Free French Navy (the FNFL), and now flown by those ships bearing the same name (see also ‘jack’ and ‘tricolour 3)’).

[Jack of Honour - FNFL Jack]
The FNFL Jack, France (fotw)

The short staff in the bows of a ship upon which the ‘jack’ is hoisted (see also ‘ensign staff’, ‘jack’ and ‘staff 1)’).

An unofficial name for the 1606 pattern British union flag (see also ‘British flag’, ‘conjoined’ and ‘union jack’).

Please note that this term appears to have been a 19th Century invention, and that there is no firm evidence of it being used during flag’s lifetime (1606 – 1801).

1) Generically, any black flag bearing white symbols and associated with piracy, but usually shown in its modern form as a flag with black field and stylised white skull above two white crossed bones - a skull and cross-bones.
2) A flag of the latter description given above, but used unofficially by the submarine service of the British Royal Navy to signify that the boat flying it has sunk a ship.

[pirate flags - Jolly Roger]
From left: Flag as described above (fotw) Flag of Blackbeard 17th C (fotw)

Please note, that vessels of the US navy often fly a Jolly Roger at the yardarm during line-crossing ceremonies (as the signal that King Neptune is aboard), and note also that no pirates are known to have actually flown this design (see also ‘yardarm’).