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France: Registration flags for merchant ships (1817-1929)

Pavillons d'arrondissement

Last modified: 2005-04-02 by
Keywords: pavillon d'arrondissement | registration flag |
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Legislation

French merchant ships had to hoist at foremast a specific flag indicating in which arrondissement they were registered. The French coasts were divided in five metropolitan maritime arrondissements, each of them being divided in two sectors, and in two colonial sectors.

The arrondissement flags were established by the Royal regulation of 3 December 1817, signed by Louis XVIII. They were confirmed in the 1852 Imperial regulations on naval flags signed by Napoléon III. These flags are still shown in Grand Larousse Illustré du XXe siècle [6 vol., 1928]). They were probably abolished in 1929.

Annuaire de la Marine de Commerce (Merchant Navy Yearbook), 1868, gives the decree of 20 March 1868, based on Louis XVIII's regulation:

Police de navigation.

Tous les navires sont portés sur le matricule tenu dans les quartiers maritimes.
Le pavillon français est porté à la poupe et à défaut de mât de pavillon à la corne d'artimon.
Un pavillon spécial, conforme au modèle annexé au règlement du 3 décembre 1817 est affecté à chacun des arrondissements maritimes. Le pavillon est porté en tête du grand mât.
Les armateurs des navires sont tenus de faire connaître au bureau de l'inscription maritime les marques de reconnaissance dont ils veulent faire usage, et ils ne peuvent les employer qu'après en avoir fait la déclaration, qui est enregistrée et mentionnée sur le rôle d'équipage du navire. La marque de reconnaissance est hissée en tête du mât de misaine.

(Règlement 3 déc. 1817 - Décret 20 mars 1868).

Unofficial translation:

Navigation police.

All ships shall be registered on the roll hold in the maritime quartiers.
The French ensign shall be hoisted on stern and, if there is no flag mast, on the mizzen horn.
A specific flag, true to the model shown in the appendix to the 3 December 1817 regulation, shall be allocated to each maritime arrondissement. This flag shall be hoisted on top of the mainmast.
The shipowners must announce to the office of the Register of Sailors the house flags thay want to use. They may use them only after their notification, which shall be registered and mentioned on the ship muster roll. The house flag shall be hoisted on top of the foremast.

(Regulation from 3 December 1817 - Decree from 20 March 1868).

There are now only three maritime regions (régions maritimes), with the military ports Cherbourg, Brest and Toulon as their respective préfecture maritime.
The civil divisions of the French coasts are the quartiers. Each quartier is named after a port and has a two-letter code that must be painted on the hull of each ship (for instance, AU for Audierne and VA for Vannes).

Ivan Sache & Dominique Cureau, 31 October 2004


General description of the flags

Pierre Charrié (Drapeaux et étendards du XIXe siècle [chr92]) shows a black-and-white facsimile of the plate entitled Pavillons d'Arrondissements des Côtes de France (Arrondissement Flags of the Coasts of France), from Album des pavillons, guidons et flammes de toutes les puissances maritimes (Album of ensigns, pennants and wimpels of all maritime powers) by Legras (1858) [leg58]. Charrié also gives a written description of the flags.

Commander Jean-Paul Redon provides additional information and sketches of these flags in Franciae Vexilla [frv] #7/53 (November 1997). Redon's source, although not mentioned is probably Grand Larousse Illustré du XXe siècle [6 vol., 1928]), which gives the following definition for the flags:

Pavillon indiquant à quelle zone militaire appartient telle partie des côtes de France.
(Flag showing to which military zone belongs a given part of the French coasts.)

There are minor differences between the two sources, as explained below when necessary.
In the following paragraphs, incl. means that the cited place is included in the sector, excl. that it is excluded, as mentioned on Legras' plate.
For each arrondissement, the two sectors have flags with the same colours but arranged differently.

Ivan Sache, 12 March 2005


Arrondissement of Cherbourg

Blue and white are the traditional colours of both Dunkirk and Cherbourg.

Sector from Dunkirk (Dunkerque) to Honfleur, incl.

[Dunkirk sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is swallow-tailed, horizontally divided blue-white-blue-white.

Redon says "From the Belgian border" instead of "From Dunkirk", which is geographically equivalent.
Charrié erroneously writes that the stripes are green.

Ivan Sache, 12 March 2005


Sector from Honfleur to Granville, excl.

[Honfleur sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is triangular, vertically divided blue-white-blue.

Charrié erroneously writes that the stripes are green.


Arrondissement of Brest

Sector from Granville to Morlaix, excl.

[Granville sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is swallow-tailed, vertically divided blue-yellow-blue-yellow.


Sector from Morlaix to Quimper, excl.

[Morlaix sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is triangular, vertically divided blue-yellow.

Ivan Sache, 12 March 2005


Arrondissement of Lorient

Sector from Quimper to Lorient, incl.

[Quimper sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is swallow-tailed, horizontally divided blue-red-blue.


Sector from Lorient to the left (south) bank of river Loire, incl.

[Lorient sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is triangular, horizontally divided blue-red.

Ivan Sache, 12 March 2005


Arrondissement of Rochefort

Sector from the left (south) bank of river Loire to Royan, incl.

[Loire sector]by Ivan Sache

[Loire sector variant]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is swallow-tailed, horizontally divided blue-white-blue according to Charrié, or green-white-green, according to Redon.


Sector from Royan to the Spanish border

[Royan sector]by Ivan Sache

[Royan sector variant]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is blue (Charrié) or green (Redon) with two white triangles placed vertically along the hoist.

Ivan Sache, 12 March 2005


Arrondissement of Toulon

Sector from the Spanish border to Marseilles (Marseille), incl.

[Marseilles sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is swallow-tailed, horizontally divided white-red-white-red.


Sector from Marseilles (Marseille) to the Piedmontese border

[Toulon sector]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is red with two white triangles placed vertically along the hoist.

Redon reports "from Marseilles to the Italian border" instead of "from Marseilles to the Piedmontese border". Note that Italy did not exist before 1861.

Ivan Sache, 12 March 2005


Colonies

Western colonies

[Western colonies]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is quartered blue-yellow.

Redon reports "Ponant" insterad of "Western colonies". Ponant [from popular Latin sol ponens ,"setting sun"], is a mostly forgotten word for West, as opposed to Levant, "rising sun", for East; however Brest is still called port militaire du Ponant because in the past there was the flotte du Ponant, the Atlantic fleet, as opposed to the flotte du Levant, the Mediterranean fleet; Levantin is still used to design peoples from Eastern Mediterranean countries. The Echelles du Levant were the trading posts established by Christian nations from the XVIth century in the Eastern Mediterranean Moslim states.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 1999

Flaggen aller seefahrenden Nationen by Norie & Hobbs (1848) [noh48] shows this flag for French Colonies, Western.
Flaggen und Atlas by Bromme (1862) shows this flag for Frankreich Westind. Kolonien (French West Indies Colonies).

Nozomi Kariyasu, 26 January 2001


Eastern colonies and Africa coast

[Eastern colonies]by Ivan Sache

The flag of this sector is vertically divided yellow-red.

Redon reports "Orient" instead of "Eastern colonies and Africa coast". Orient [East] is the origin of the name of Lorient, formerly L'Orient. Logically the captions should have been Ponant and Levant, or Occident and Orient, or West and East.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 1999

Flaggen aller seefahrenden Nationen by Norie & Hobbs (1848) [noh48] shows this flag for French Colonies, African & Eastern.
Flaggen und Atlas by Bromme (1862) shows this flag for Frankreich Ostind Kolonien (French East Indies Colonies).

Nozomi Kariyasu, 26 January 2001

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