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Swiss navy and Swiss flags at sea

Last modified: 2010-01-22 by
Keywords: switzerland | navy | suisse-outremer | panalpina | oceana shipping |
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[Swiss flag at sea] image by António Martins

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Flag at sea

During WW II a Swiss Naval Ensign was adopted with the proportions 2:3. The National Flag of Switzerland is square.
Nick Artimovich, 12 February 1996

It is used only by the Swiss commercial fleet outside Switzerland. On the lakes the usual square flag is used.
Harald Müller, 12 February 1996

RS 747.30. Maritime Traffic Law (23 September 1953). Article 3: Swiss ensign
(Source: Website of the Swiss government, German / French / Italian)

  1. The Swiss ensign shall be displayed only by Swiss ships. A Swiss ship shall display the Siwss ensign, to the exclusion of all other ones.
  2. The Swiss ensign bears a white cross on a red background; its shapes and proportions shall follow the figure published in the appendix of the present law.
[Swiss ensign, construction sheet] image by Ivan Sache, based on figure that accompanied the 1953 law

The flag is a 2:3 rectangle, with A (length) = 1.5B (height). The central element of the cross is a square of side b. The square is placed in the geometrical center of the flag. Each horizontal arm of the cross has a height of b and a length of b+(1/6)b (the cross has the same specifications as in the coat of arms). There is a length of 0.5A between the cross edges and the left and right edges of the flag. Similarly, each vertical arm of the cross has a height of b+(1/6)b and a length of b. There is a height of b between the cross and the upper and lower edges of the flag.
Ivan Sache, 2 March 2002

RS 747.321.7. Regulation concerning Swiss yachts at sea (15 March 1971). Article 1, Paragraph 3
(Source: Website of the Swiss government, German / French / Italian)

This law does not specify which emblems may be used, their size, nor where the emblem should be placed.
Emil Dreyer, 23 May 2002

Swiss Navy

Switzerland does have a small navy of sorts. Lakes Konstanz and Leman (Geneva) form international frontiers, and their navies consist of a few patrol craft. Switzerland also has a major Rhine commercial fleet (you can see the Swiss flag flying all the way to the Netherlands), which military patrol craft in time of war. Both the navy and air force are branches of the army (like the infantry and artillery). The air force is 1st in Europe -- so good that Israel used it as their model.
T. F. Mills, 12 February 1996

Even if landlocked, Switzerland has its navy mainly to sail on the different lakes like Constance (Bodensee), Leman (or Geneva but people outside of Geneva dislike this spelling), Brienz, Thun, 4 Cantons (Vierwaldstaettersee), Zug, Neuchatel, Biel/Bienne or Morat (Murten) to name a few but they belong to private navigation companies. There's no regulation as to which flag or ensign should be flown on these ships: it appears that 2:3 ensigns are only flown on the 3 main lakes of Switzerland (Constance, Geneva and Zurich) while ships on other smaller lakes fly the 1:1 flag.
Pascal Gross, 11 July 2002

The Swiss "navy" consists of ten patrol boats on two lakes that form international borders (Constance and Leman).
T. F. Mills, 11 July 2002

Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano form international borders with Italy. The shipping company for Lake Marriore is Italian and they seem to fly only the Italian flag. The shipping company for Lake Lugano is located in Switzerland and the square flag is flown here.
Pascal Gross, 12 July 2002

Merchant maritime flag use

Recommendations from the British Government

One of three extracts from a memorandum sent to the Marine Department of the Board of Trade in connection with revisions to the pages of national ensigns in the International Code List published in 1879. [Public Record Office MT 9/183]

Proposal of the Government of Switzerland to establish a Swiss maritime flag.

1864. "Switzerland has no distinctive maritime flag. Her Majesty's Minister in Berne observed to the President of the Confederation that in the case where the merchant marine would not have the protection of a military one, the measure might lead to political complications in that while the position of Switzerland and her guaranteed neutrality induced all Foreign Powers under existing circumstances to extend to her citizens protection and goodwill, yet the use of the flag afloat might bring them into altercations with belligerent Powers."

The question was referred to Admiral Harris who replied that "HM Government could only view with satisfaction on the ocean, and in the ports of the British Empire the flag of an industrious and friendly power, and that in time of peace no question were likely to arise which would not admit of easy adjustment. However graver questions might arise in time of war in consequence of Switzerland possessing no port of her own, and from the ships bearing her flag hailing from ports of a belligerent. Neutrality guaranteed to the territory of Switzerland could not be held to afford exceptional privileges to the merchant vessels of Swiss citizens, and the power proposed to be given to Swiss consuls to register vessels provisionally was considered likely to give rise to grave international difficulties. The question of enforcement of Swiss municipal law on board such vessels, and the manner in which respect to the Swiss Flag could be ensured were matters for the Swiss Government."

Law Officers' Opinion. "The proposal is novel and though Swiss Marine must necessarily be dependent upon the use of ports of other countries, there is no principle in International Law which ought to lead other countries to refuse to recognise the flag of an inland state, when used either by public ships of that state, or by the ships of its subjects under the authority of its Government upon the high seas."

Proposal adjourned by Swiss Legislature to the following session, and abandoned in 1866.

David Prothero, 17 April 2001

It would seem peculiarly British to suppose that a state needed a distinctive ensign--different from the national flag--for display at sea, since most other countries even then used the same flag for both purposes.

The more relevant point is that subsequent treaties including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea explicitly recognize the right of landlocked states to use the high seas under their own flags.

Joe McMillan, 17 April 2001

Non-maritime use of rectangular Swiss flags

There is no law inforcement regarding unusual Swiss or cantonal flags. Flags may be rectangular, with faded colours, or with too big or too small crosses, or hung upside down, or two flags on one mast or whatever vexillological "don'ts" you may find across the country, only because there are no laws to the contrary. Flag manufacturers are therefore free to produce Swiss flags however they like - except for the Swiss ensign, which has a construction plan set by law.

Not only does the Swiss government do nothing to prevent the non-maritime use of rectangular Swiss flags, but the government also uses such flags often in international matters. Official car flags have become rectangular during the past years to match them better with the mostly rectangular flags of official visitors. During international meetings abroad the Swiss flag is always rectangular. While this is understandable from the organisers' or manufacturers' point of view, since they may try to avoid causing offence to anybody by using flags of different sizes and it is much cheaper to have all flags the same shape, the use of rectangular Swiss flags on land is not encouraged. The national flag on land is square and is used by Swiss citizens as such.

Emil Dreyer, 23 May 2002

Swiss maritime companies

Some Swiss maritime companies (past and present):

Last update: 13 January 2010

Alpina Reederei AG

[Alpina Reederei AG] image by Ivan Sache

Horizontally striped blue and white (seven stripes in all) with a square Swiss flag in canton (height of the canton: three horizontal stripes).

Ivan Sache, 23 August 2002


Ermefer SA

The big beautiful white ships that sail on Lake Leman belong to the Compagnie Generale de Navigation (CGN), a Swiss shipping company with its headquarters in Lausanne. The CGN is the biggest inland water, passenger shipping company in Europe. Tourists enjoy the ships of CGN in summertime, as well as Savoyards working in Switzerland, who take the CGN ships between Evian and Lausanne all the year round.

The ships of the CGN fly the rectangular Swiss civil ensign at the stern and the French civil ensign at the bow. In addition, the ships of the CGN have sometimes, but not always, a specific "flag dressing": a halyard is tightened above the passengers' deck and decorated with four rectangular flags representing the banks of Lake Leman. The four flags are:


[CGN, Vaud]


[GCN, Geneva]


[GCN, Valais]


Savoy (France)
[CGN, Savoy]

by Nicolas Deprez

The three Swiss flags are simplified versions of the official flags:

Nicolas Deprez, 4 June 2004


Ermefer SA

[Ermefer SA] image by Ivan Sache

Horizontally divided red-white-red flag with the white stripe larger and a red E placed in the middle of the white stripe.

Ivan Sache, 23 August 2002


Lloyd AG

[Lloyd AG] image by Eugene Ipavec

Horizontally striped black and yellow (seven stripes in all), a red canton bearing a white couped cross representing Switzerland (height of canton: four horizontal stripes).

Jan Mertens, 1 September 2008


Navylloyd AG

[Navylloyd AG] image by Ivan Sache

Red flag with a white lozenge and a red N letter placed in the middle of the flag.

Ivan Sache, 23 August 2002


Oceana Shipping

[Oceana Shipping] image by Phil Nelson



[Panalpina] image by Jorge Candeias

Blue with a white logo centered.
The logo is composed of a winged human figure standing on a disc holding something that might be a sail.

Jorge Candeias, 6 March 1999


Reederei Zürich AG

[Reederei Zürich AG] image by Jarig Bakker

Blue-white-blue, with the white stripe apparently thinner than the other stripes (3:2:3 ? 2:1:2 ?).

Jarig Bakker, 4 November 2003


Suisse-Atlantique Société de Navigation Maritime SA
Suisse-Outremer SA de Gerance et d'Affretement Maritimes

[1) Suisse-Atlantique Société de Navigation Maritime SA and 2) Suisse-Outremer SA de Gerance et d'Affretement Maritimes] image by Phil Nelson

Yellow flag with a red saltire and a red star in the first and third quarters. Smith (1976) shows the same flag (on the funnel) for Maranava SA (Panama).

Ivan Sache, 23 August 2002


Suisse-Outremer Reederei AG

[Suisse-Outremer Reederei AG] image by Ivan Sache

Flag similar to Alpina Reederei AG, but with yellow instead of white stripes.

Ivan Sache, 23 August 2002


Swiss Shipping Company

[SSC] image by San Pavlos

Exact shadings used in the flag are uncertain.

San Pavlos, 25 December 2002



[Trans-Splitt] image by Eugene Ipavec

Trans-Splitt AG at Basel, the name of which may be rendered as "crushed stone transportation", is a member of ALFS Group at Baden-Baden (DE), active - since 1948 - in the trade and transportation of construction materials (sand, gravel, stone, assorted products).

Jan Mertens, 25 February 2009