Pirate Flag Legal?

I’m going to make this OP short.
Is it legal to fly the jolly roger on a boat registered to one of the United States. If so, are there any limitations as to how, when and where you can do so? If not, what is the penalty for flying a pirate flag? Is the law against it enforcable?

I don’t think the Jolly Roger has any legal status and probably isn’t a useful tool in identifiying pirates anyway. In fact it’s not uncommon for US navy ships to fly it on special occasions. On the day of crossing the equator when slimy pollywogs (those who haven’t crossed) become trusty shellbacks (such as moi) the ship flies the skull and crossed bones (usually femur bones but that’s not an absolute). Tradition has it that any 'wog who captures the Jolly Roger ends the initiation.

Well, you certainly shouldn’t be flying it instead of the correct ensign. Also, I think you may be required to fly the correct ensign at the highest point or something. If you are out on the high seas without an ensign, you’re pretty much fair game for whatever ships feel like stopping you.

Also, international law applies in the middle of the ocean, while a country’s laws apply within that country’s territorial waters. Usually territorial waters are those within 12 miles of the coast, but some countries claim more or less. Personally, I’d prefer the old three mile limit, but I’m a traditionalist.

Padeye, waterj2: Thank you for your responses.
Perhaps I should have been a bit more specific regarding my question.
I am asking if it is legal for a medium sized (20-40 ft.) non-commerical sailing vessel operating in United States waters and registered to the state of New York is allowed to fly the jolly roger, and if so, under what circumstances.

Yes, 100% legal.

Here in the Pacific NW, where there are more boats per capita than anywhere else, people fly them on a regular occasion. These flags, on the other hand, can get you in trouble if you use them wrong.

Now, about those pennants, I’ve seen sailboats and the like spell out their names (“Windsoar” or “Impulse” or the such) using those…seems that would be pretty obvious that they aren’t being used for signaling.

Slightly off-topic: The Australian Submarine Squadron carried a jolly roger during a march some years ago - it raised a few eyebrows, but nothing was said.

During wartime, submarines of the Royal Navy (and I believe the RAN) traditionally flew the JR on returning to port to signify a successful mission/cruise.


So if you are sending a BRAVO-ZULU to a friend who’s done a good job (say, he’s a fisherman whose holds are filled with profitable cargo), the Coast Guard might think you’re carrying dangerous cargo and need a tug? (Hm. Maybe I should fly HOTEL from my car. You know how bit pilots’ egos are.)

What we thinnk of as the"Jolly Roger" was actually only used by one pirate (Calico Jack Rackham, IRC). All the others had variations on the theme, such as full skeletons and the like. I think the modern conception of the Jolly Roger is purely a hollywood creation and has no basis in maritime law.

I’m sure if you flew one as big as a king size bedsheet, you might violate a few codes, but that’s it.

Rackham used a skull and crossed swords. The traditional skull with crossed bones below was flown by Edward England, but at least some other pirates flew it. A skull-and-crossbones flag flown by a French pirate crew has been recovered which looks exactly like the Hollywood version, except that the field is white. (It may have been black at one time and have faded over time). Jolly Rogers with the crossbones behind the skull instead of below it appear in contemporary engravings of Stede Bonnett; these also appear in a few Hollywood movies.

Danimal the Pirate Enthusiast.