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Flag Etiquette For Nautical Flagpoles

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Carrot Top
Published on
June 22, 2017 at 9:08:00 PM PDT June 22, 2017 at 9:08:00 PM PDTnd, June 22, 2017 at 9:08:00 PM PDT


Some time back, Carrot-Top added Single Mast Nautical Flagpoles to our line of Commercial Flagpoles. The Nautical Flagpole, of course, resembles a ship’s mast and evokes the sea, making it a popular choice for seafood restaurants, marinas and yacht clubs. Considering that, we thought you might be interested in knowing a little more about the proper way to fly flags on a nautical flagpole.


First, we have to go back to the gaff-rigged flagpole and its origins at sea.


In the days of sailing ships, flags were the only way for ships to communicate at a distance, and it was imperative to be able to identify the nationality of another ship. The flag of the nation couldn’t be clearly viewed if it was at the top of the ship’s main mast. Sailing technology evolved and ships were designed with large boom sails to help with steering, and the ship’s stern was traditionally the captain’s position of command. Thus, the ship’s stern became the preferred place for the nation’s flag. Early ships also had the nobleman’s banner or King’s banner affixed to the stern rail.


Today, warships are made of steel and the days of sailing vessels are long gone. Still, traditions linger and the flag protocol for naval-style flagpoles is still in place. The United States Power Squadron is an organization for yachting clubs and other boating organizations; they have published a booklet entitled “How to Fly Flags, Nautical Flag Display.” We’ll quickly break down and summarize their guidelines:


  • If you are flying the U.S. flag from a yardarm flagpole, the U.S. flag should be at the very top of the mast. State flags, club flags, nautical flags or others should be flown from halyards leading up to the yardarm.
  • If you fit your yardarm flagpole with a gaff, extending at a right angle to the yardarm, the U.S. flag should be flown from a halyard leading up to the gaff. The club pennant or burgee should be flown from the top of the mast, with state flags or other flags flown from the yardarm’s halyards.


In the case of a gaff-mounted flag, it may seem inappropriate to not display the U.S. flag at the top of the mast – however, this ties in with the naval traditions outlined above and harkens back to the days when the flag was flown at a sailing ship’s stern. Carrot-Top’s Single Mast Nautical Flagpole doesn’t feature a gaff, but we can envision situations when the members of a yacht club or a marina may wish to fit a gaff to a flagpole. In these instances, we thought you’d like to know what the proper protocol is, and how it originated.


If you’ve got questions about proper flag code etiquette, feel free to check out our web page on the code. You’ll find comprehensive info on how to display the flag, how to fold and store it and how to handle it with the proper respect. At Carrot-Top, nobody knows more about flags than we do! 


Diagram Image Via: United States Power Squadrons


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