Sail Past tradition began at the first Yacht Club which was formed at Cowes in England nearly 200 years ago. The membership at Cowes was primarily aristocratic and many were familiar with naval practice and tradition. Cowes Yacht Club subsequently changed its name to Royal Yacht Squadron and certain social graces were added to the traditional naval practices. The actual “review of the fleet” was introduced as a continuation of the naval habit of having Admirals (and/or Royalty) review the fleet on special occasions. Protocol demanded that a flagship be anchored with the Admiral and staff on the quarterdeck to receive and return the salute. Vessels sailed past, dipping their colours in salute, and with their captain, if hatted (which he…or she, should be), also saluting with the ship’s company standing at attention. The fleet passing in review would be led by the Vice-Admiral and the final vessel in the line would carry the Rear-Admiral.
The Yacht Club tradition is almost identical, except that the salute is received by the Commodore instead of the Admiral. Tradition dictates that all Club members participate in the Sail Past, on their own or on another member’s yacht. Good manners require that a member unable to participate will send his/her regrets to the Commodore. Participating boats fly only their flag officer’s burgee or club burgee plus the Canadian ensign. Only the jib and main are flown, but auxiliary power may be used to maintain station and safety.
While sailing past, each yacht should maintain a distance of three boat lengths from the yacht in front. Each yacht will salute when two boat lengths from the Commodore’s yacht until past the yacht. During the salute, the skipper faces the Commodore and returns the salute. All the crew if possible, should stand and face the Commodore but will not themselves salute. Power boats will salute by dipping their ensigns and sailboats by letting fly their jibs. If there is insufficient wind, sailboats should have their engines on. Once the Sail Past is completed, no ship should return to harbour ahead of the Commodore’s vessel. There are a number of traditions within the yachting fraternity such as the tradition of dressing ship which goes back to the earliest times of the naval and yacht club history. Protocol dictates that until the Sail Past is completed only the flag ship may be dressed (strung with bunting and flags). However, participating yachts are encouraged to dress on returning to their mooring. By precedent, Sail Past is the formal event officially opening the boating season. However, once ships have returned to harbour, the formal part of the day is over and a less formal celebration ensures. This begins with the dressing of all ships.
Since you are saluting the office of the Commodore and not the Commodore personally, a hand salute is not appropriate for participating skippers and crew. Instead, simply show your respect by dipping or clasping the Canadian ensign at the stern and releasing it after the Commodore acknowledges your salute. The skipper and crew face the Commodore’s boat at attention with headgear doffed. Boats without ensigns salute by luffing their jib.
An appropriate Salute consists of “dipping” the Canadian flag (holding it so not to flutter), with the Skipper and crew facing starboard with head gear removed. A sailing vessel may salute by luffing the jib. The salute will be taken by Commodore.
The Commodore, who should always be wearing a hat when saluting, in the naval tradition, acknowledges your boat in return with a smart hand salute.
Other boats may join the parade and the club has a tradition of inclusiveness by welcoming non-member boats from the marina and members of the yacht club, whose Commodore is also invited to join the Commodore’s boat and take their own salute, along with past Commodores.
At a traditional Skippers’ Meeting before the event, usually at the clubhouse, a lead boat is designated for all to follow. Then boats proceed in order of size, with larger sail boats first, dinghies next and power boats in the van. If one class of boat belongs to another club sharing our sailpast, they may elect to parade immediately before or immediately after members, to be decided at the skippers’ meeting. A VHF channel will be selected for safety and emergency issues.
Again, depending on the weather, the Sailpast starts at the designated hour and afterwards members repair to the clubhouse for the Commodore’s Reception.
Once the participant’s boats are docked it is traditional to dress the fleet by either flying signal flags from the bow to the masthead and down to the stern, or by flying race and cruising award flags. All flags are dropped at sundown, according to naval protocol.