Know which flag you fly when sailing into Sint Maarten

Published: 06/01/2006

History and tradition are the basis for today's flag etiquette. The size of your vessel determines the size of the flag to be flown at the stern: one inch for every foot long.

If your vessel is 40 feet long, than you should fly a 48-inch flag. (Always fly a larger flag, not a smaller one.)

As far as courtesy flags go, you should first hoist a yellow "Q" or quarantine flag as you enter the waters of a foreign nation. This Q flag should fly from the starboard side forward mast spreader. After clearance, the Q flag should be lowered and replaced with the country flag of the nation you are visiting.

What flag should you raise while visiting Sint Maarten? Not the Dutch flag. Not the Sint Maarten Island Territory flag.  Not a French flag.

You should have a Netherlands Antilles flag raised. And it should be the correct side up. Sint Maarten is an island territory of the Netherlands Antilles, which is a part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands but not a part of Holland.

There are five stars on the flag of the Netherlands Antilles, three are on the top and two are on the bottom. The top three stars represent the Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius (Statia) and Sint Maarten. The lower two stars represent the Islands of Bonaire and Curacao.

If you have a Netherlands Antilles flag with six stars, save it; it's more than 20 years old. The sixth star represents Aruba when it was a part of the country. Aruba now has its own status within the kingdom.

Before your next visit to the Caribbean, do an inventory of your flag locker and see that you have all the necessary courtesy flags aboard for your anticipated itinerary and that they are all in good condition.

Flag etiquette info is available from many sources on the Internet. A few are ,  and

Neil Rooney owns Buccaneer Beach Bar (  in Sint Maarten. Contact him