Jack of the United States

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United States of America
Naval Jack of the United States.svg
Jack flown by U.S. naval vessels
Name The First Navy Jack
Proportion 1:2
Adopted September 11, 2002
Design 13 horizontal stripes of alternating red and white, charged with a rattlesnake and inscribed on the lowest white stripe: "DONT TREAD ON ME".
US Naval Jack.svg
Jack flown by other U.S. federal and civilian vessels. Was used as the U.S. Navy's jack prior to September 11, 2002.
Name Union Jack
Proportion 10:7
Adopted July 4, 1960
Design 50 white stars on a blue field in 9 rows, alternating between 6 and 5 stars.

The jack of the United States of America is a maritime flag representing United States nationality flown on the jackstaff in the bow of American vessels that are moored or anchored. The U.S. Navy is a prime user of jacks for its warships and auxiliaries, but they are also used by ships of the U.S. Coast Guard, the predominantly civilian-manned replenishment and support ships of the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command, the ships of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other U.S. governmental entities. "The jack is flown on the bow (front) of a ship and the ensign is flown on the stern (rear) of a ship when anchored or moored. Once under way, the ensign is flown from the main mast."[1]


For most of U.S. history, the primary jack design has been the blue canton with stars (the "union") from the U.S. national ensign. The blue fielded, white-starred jack is referred to as the Union Jack, not to be confused with the Union Jack of Britain, which has the same name but a different design. Like the U.S. ensign, the number of stars on the jack has increased with each state admitted into the union. Rules for flying the jack are similar to the national ensign, except that the jack is only worn at the bow when the ship is anchored, made fast or alongside.

Since September 11, 2002, the U.S. Navy has made use of the so-called First Navy Jack. However, the standard U.S. jack (i.e., 50 white stars on a blue field) continues to be used as the jack by vessels of U.S. federal agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the Military Sealift Command and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps. The standard 50-star jack continues to be used by U.S. civilian ships and by U.S. yachts as well.

The modern First Navy Jack as used by the U.S. Navy is a flag bearing 13 red and white stripes, a rattlesnake and the motto "DONT TREAD ON ME" [sic], coming from the supposed design of the first jacks used by the U.S. Navy during the Revolutionary War. It is flown from the jackstaff from 08:00 to sunset while U.S. Navy ships are moored or at anchor. It is required to be the same size as the union of the ensign being flown from the stern of the ship. It is also flown from the yardarm during a general court-martial or court of inquiry.[2] During times when the ensign is at half mast, the jack is also at half mast. The jack is hoisted smartly and lowered ceremoniously in the same manner as the ensign, however the jack is not dipped when the ensign is dipped.[3]

Some other exceptions to the use of the U.S. Union Jack have occurred in the case of the U.S. Navy, the most prominent being the use of the First Navy Jack by the U.S. Navy in honor of the country's Bicentennial and for other uses subsequently.[4] For example, following the Bicentennial, in August 1980, use of the First Navy Jack was granted to the active commissioned ship having the longest total period of front-line operational service, said use to be in place of the Union Jack until that ship was decommissioned or transferred to inactive status, whereupon the next such ship in seniority inherited the honor of its use. Said use was limited to the oldest "commissioned" naval vessel (i.e., an all-military United States Ship (ship prefix USS) versus a part-military/part-civilian crewed United States Naval Ship (ship prefix USNS)) in front-line operational service.

On June 3, 1999, the Secretary of the Navy also authorized the flying of the Submarine Centennial Jack on all U.S. Navy submarines and submarine tenders during the year 2000.[5]

Jacks of the United States by date

Stars Design Dates in general use Notes
Naval Jack of the United States.svg
January 8, 1776 – June 14, 1777
The first jack adopted by the United States consisted of thirteen alternating red and white horizontal stripes. Known as the First Navy Jack, it is often depicted with a rattlesnake and motto, however, there is little evidence that the jack actually had either of these.
US Naval Jack 13 stars.svg
June 14, 1777 – May 1, 1795
Examples of many layouts of the 13 star pattern exist (see Flag of the United States).
US Naval Jack 15 stars.svg
May 1, 1795 – July 3, 1818
The 15-star jack was used by the United States during the Quasi-War and the War of 1812.
US Naval Jack 20 stars.svg
July 4, 1818 – July 3, 1819
US Naval Jack 21 stars.svg
July 4, 1819 – July 3, 1820
US Naval Jack 23 stars.svg
July 4, 1820 – July 3, 1822
US Naval Jack 24 stars.svg
July 4, 1822 – July 3, 1836
US Naval Jack 25 stars.svg
July 4, 1836 – July 3, 1837
US Naval Jack 26 stars.svg
July 4, 1837 – July 3, 1845
US Naval Jack 27 stars.svg
July 4, 1845 – July 3, 1846
US Naval Jack 28 stars.svg
July 4, 1846 – July 3, 1847
US Naval Jack 29 stars.svg
July 4, 1847 – July 3, 1848
US Naval Jack 30 stars.svg
July 4, 1848 – July 3, 1851
US Naval Jack 31 stars.svg
July 4, 1851 – July 3, 1858
US Naval Jack 32 stars.svg
July 4, 1858 – July 3, 1859
US Naval Jack 33 stars.svg
July 4, 1859 – July 3, 1861
Civil War
US Naval Jack 34 stars.svg
July 4, 1861 – July 3, 1863
US Naval Jack 35 stars.svg
July 4, 1863 – July 3, 1865
US Naval Jack 36 stars.svg
July 4, 1865 – July 3, 1867
US Naval Jack 37 stars.svg
July 4, 1867 – July 3, 1877
US Naval Jack 38 stars.svg
July 4, 1877 – July 3, 1890
US Naval Jack 43 stars.svg
July 4, 1890 – July 3, 1891
US Naval Jack 44 stars.svg
July 4, 1891 – July 3, 1896
US Naval Jack 45 stars.svg
July 4, 1896 – July 3, 1908
Sinking of the USS Maine;
Spanish–American War;
Great White Fleet
US Naval Jack 46 stars.svg
July 4, 1908 – July 3, 1912
US Naval Jack 48 stars.svg
July 4, 1912 – July 3, 1959
World War I;
World War II
US Naval Jack 49 stars.svg
July 4, 1959 – July 3, 1960
US Naval Jack.svg
July 4, 1960 – October 12, 1975[4]
A 50-star jack was adopted on July 4, 1960, after the ascension of the Territory of Hawaii into statehood. The 50-star jack was used during the Vietnam War. In October 1975, the jack was briefly replaced by the First Navy Jack in commemoration of the U.S. Navy's bicentennial as well as the bicentennial of the United States of America's independence. The 50-star jack was re-adopted on January 1, 1977.
The First Navy Jack

October 13, 1975 – December 31, 1976[4]
On October 13, 1975, commissioned U.S. Navy warships switched to the First Navy Jack in commemoration of the bicentennial of the United States Navy and the United States of America's bicentennial. It was used in this capacity until December 31, 1976, when the 50-star jack was re-adopted.
US Naval Jack.svg
January 1, 1977 – September 11, 2002[4][6]
Global War on Terrorism;
War in Afghanistan

The 50-star jack was re-adopted by commissioned U.S. Navy warships on January 1, 1977.

Since August 18, 1980, the First Navy Jack has been used by the active commissioned ship having the longest total period as active in place of the union jack until the ship is decommissioned or transferred to inactive status, whereupon the next such ship inherits the honor.

In 2002, commissioned U.S. Navy warships switched to the First Navy Jack. From September 11, 2002 onwards, the 50-star jack is only used by Military Sealift Command (MSC) and non-U.S. Navy vessels.

The First Navy Jack

September 11, 2002[6] – present
Global War on Terrorism;
War in Afghanistan;
Iraq War

The First Navy Jack has been in use since 2002 by United States Navy vessels only. MSC and non-U.S. Navy vessels such as the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, continue to use the 50-star union jack adopted in 1960.

From August 18, 1980 onwards, the active commissioned ship having the longest total period as active uses the First Navy Jack instead.[4] Currently that ship is USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).

See also


  1. United States Naval Jack
  2. United States Navy Rate training manual. Signalman 1 & C.
  3. United States Navy. Basic Military Requirements (BMR) Revised Edition
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "The U.S. Navy's First Jack". Retrieved 2006-10-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Undersea Warfare Summer 2000 Vol. 2, No. 4. The fact that the U.S. Navy has, at times, elected to substitute other flags for the Union Jack has not affected its use as a jack by the Coast Guard, NOAA, other agencies and civilians.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Change ordered 2002-05-31, executed on date shown.