Vessels sailing under the United States Country Flag are required to have on board this flag as part of flag state requirements that derive from maritime regulations in the International Code of Signals and the International Safety Management (ISM) Code. These codes are published by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as an ongoing effort to reinforce maritime safety procedures and communications to the international maritime community. Fleet management companies and ship owners are responsible to ensure that each vessel in their respective fleets have the appropriate flag signage onboard to be in compliance. This flag is used to identify the flag state a vessel is sailing under and to communicate with other vessels under the provisions of the International Code of Signals.
The United States Country Flag is represented by 13 equally proportioned, alternating horizontal red and white stripes with red on top and on the bottom. In the canton at the upper left quadrant, a blue square contains 50 white five pointed stars. The 13 stripes represent the original 13 colonies which banded together to challenge and eventually defeat the British Empire in a quest for independence. The stars represent the 50 current States which make up the country. The United States Country Flag is designated to be proportioned at a ratio of 10:19, height to length, respectively. Protocol for displaying flags dictates an order following the United States Country Flag, the United States State Flag, the United States Military Flag and then all other United States flags to be displayed. The Flag should never touch the ground. If it is damaged or defaced it must be replaced immediately and should not be displayed. It may be flown at half mast during times of mourning after raised to full mast, and may be flown upside down to convey distress.