A law passed by the British parliament last night in parallel to new guidance for government buildings on flying the union flag every day will require all UK-registered vessels to wear the ensign round the clock when in foreign ports.

Red ensign: the bigger the better

Previously, the Merchant Shipping Act did not require the ensign to be worn while in a foreign port after sunset.

Rather than allowing captains to take in the ensign at sunset (“putting the Queen to bed”), the new rule means it must remain permanently in position.

In the event that a vessel is found in contravention of the new rule, a number of penalties have been written into the regulations.

Least serious offences will be punished by a fine, or by the skipper being stripped of their right to command any vessel longer than two metres.

Flogging and keel-hauling are listed as penalties for the most serious offenders, especially those who repeatedly flout the rules.

Other changes are also being considered, including a requirement that UK-flagged vessels entering a foreign port must play “Rule Britannia” at a volume that may be heard at least three nautical miles away.

On leaving a foreign port, vessels may be required to play “God Save the Queen”, and muster all crew on deck in full uniform or evening dress, as applicable.

Legislation, although rushed through parliament less than 24 hours ago, came into effect at 00:01 (BST) today, April 1, 2021.

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