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Recently several of our friends have inquired about the process that cruisers must go through when entering another country. Although the exact details may vary from place to place, the basic procedure, as we understand it, goes like this. Upon entering the new country’s waters, or at the very least by the time you near the new country’s harbor that you plan on clearing into, you raise a yellow flag on the flag halyard, hung from the starboard spreader. This flag, known as a Quarantine flag, will remain there until the country’s officials have cleared you in. The harbor master is hailed on the VHF radio, requesting clearance. From there it gets a bit mirky, but I believe instructions will follow, either telling you to stay where you are, or telling the captain to come ashore with the required documentation.

One source for clearance info is the Noonsite website. Once all of the requisite hoops have been jumped through, papers have been stamped and of course, fees have been paid, the Quarantine flag can be lowered and replaced by a Courtesy flag for the country you are visiting.

The image above shows both a Q flag and the Courtesy flag for the US, the first country that we will be visiting. Because of the “friendly” relationship between the US and Canada, the process for entering the US is a bit different I think. As I understand it we can clear in by video phone. I have also read that we must regularly check in with Homeland Security as we travel through the US. We’ll make sure we are up to date on the regs by the time we are ready to leave so that we don’t get in trouble!

As for the flags, we went a little overboard on the ones above, buying the deluxe version of the US flag from West Marine. We figured that because they are our neighbors, and we will be there for some time, they deserved a nice flag. 🙂 As for other countries, I think most cruisers attempt to make flags by sewing scraps of colored material together and/or by using fabric paint. We’ll see just how “crafty” we can be.


  1. Get the best Canadian flag you can get. In the breeze it fades and flutters to shreds. We renew our Australian flag each season. In Greece the courtesy flag has to be in good condition or else they will fine you. In Turkey the flag should be larger than any other flags flown from the mast or they get upset.
    The British furl their flag/pennant in the evening because the Navy could not afford to renew it each year. I dont support that because you loose your identity when you are cruising….. but maybe they want to.

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