Gaff-Rigged Flag Poles
"What is the proper
way to fly flags on a gaff-rigged pole?" That is
probably the most frequently asked question
received by the USPS Flag & Etiquette Committee.
Gaff-rigged poles are used by navies, boaters
and yacht clubs around the world. Onshore, the
"yacht club style flagpole" with a gaff
represents the mast of a ship. A gaff-rigged
pole may, or may not, have a yardarm or
crosstree. A gaff-rigged pole with a yardarm is
illustrated on the right flying a yacht club
burgee and an officer flag.
(Gaff-rigged pole flying USPS flags)
Many people are
confused about the proper way to fly the
national ensign from a gaff-rigged pole. As
depicted in the drawing on the right, the
national ensign should be flown from the gaff
and the club or organization burgee should be
flown at the masthead.
pole had its origins at sea. Because of all the
sail carried by the rigging of these vessels,
the flag of a nation could not be clearly viewed
if it was placed at the top of the mast. The
stern of the vessel was the position of command
and the captain's quarters were located aft.
Early boats also had the nobleman's banner,
king's banner, or English ensign staff fixed to
the stern rail. As sails changed, long booms
sweep across the stern rail every time the ship
tacked, so the ensign staff had to be removed
when the ship was under way. Since the captain
and other officers were still aft, the nearest
position from which they found it practical to
fly the ensign was the gaff. Over time, this
became the place of honor to display the
national flag. When the ship was moored, the
ensign staff was set up again on the stern rail.