Flag Display at Yacht CLubs

Discussion in 'US Flag Display' started by TomLiberty, Aug 11, 2008.

  1. TomLiberty

    TomLiberty New Member

    I have attached this photo for your review. It has always bothered me not to see the American Flag at the top of a mast. This photo shows a yacht club burgee above the US Flag from a Yard Arm which just does not seem right to me. I have noticed that all Yacht Clubs do the same. Even in the movie "On the Beach" with Rock Hudson in B&W I saw the same display of the Australian Flag at a Yacht Club in that movie. Being a Vietnam Veteran who has fought for this country's Flag & Freedom's I feel that this type of display should be changed.

    Tom Laliberte
    Plymouth, MA
    Former US Navy Photographer

    Attached Files:

  2. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Greetings, Tom -- welcome to the forum!

    The problem here comes from the fact that the rules and customs for displaying the flag at sea are different from those used ashore. As you probably know from your Navy experience, the position of honor for a flag on a ship is not at the top of the mast, but at the stern. This goes back to the days of sailing ships, when the commanding officer's station was in the after part of the ship, where he could view the set of the sails. The correct place to fly the US flag on a ship is either from a flagstaff at the stern, or from a gaff on the aftermost mast. (The outer end of the gaff is called the "peak." You'll frequently find references in nautical literature to the flag flying "at the peak." This means at the end of the gaff, not at the top of the mast.)

    (The identification of the stern as the place of honor actually goes back at least to classical times. Ancient Roman ships had a religious statue or icon on the after deck; it was called the "pupus," which is the origin of the term "poop" deck. But I digress . . .)

    Yacht clubs traditionally follow nautical rather than shore practice. Their flagpoles (like the one in your picture) have gaffs like the ones on a ship's mast, and the flag is flown from the peak of the gaff, as it is properly done onboard ship.

    One of the major problems with the US "flag code" is that it does not address nautical usage at all. This is probably because it was originally based on an Army circular. If the code is ever revised, it should include a new section on nautical practice and how it's different from usage ashore.

    Anyway, glad to have you aboard!

    Peter Ansoff
  3. TomLiberty

    TomLiberty New Member

    After being in the navy for over 4 years I had the pleasure of serving on many ships because of my Rate. This included 6 Carriers and several Cruisers. Based on the Title 4 listed below the ONLY thing that flew above the US Flag was the Ships Pennant or the Church Pennant. Thats exactly what I saw while at sea. No other flag flew above the US Flag on any ship I was on. Maybe it would be appropriate for Yacht Clubs to follow the same tradition.


    Sec. 7. Position and manner of display
    (c) No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the
    same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America,
    except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when
    the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services
    for the personnel of the Navy. No person shall display the flag of the
    United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above,
    or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the
    flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any
    Territory or possession thereof: Provided, That nothing in this section
    shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice heretofore followed
    of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior
    prominence or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal
    prominence or honor, with that of the flag of the United States at the
    headquarters of the United Nations.
  4. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hi, Tom,

    The sections of the US Code that you quoted are part of the "flag code." While the code does contain a few references to military matters (e.g., the church pennant and the protocol for saluting when in uniform), it is primarily directed at civilian usage and does not apply to the military. The code itself makes this clear (4 USC 1 Para 5):

    "The following codification of existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America is established for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States."

    Also, as I mentioned earlier, the flag code as it stands does not deal with maritime matters. Civilian merchant ships and private yachts follow maritime usage, which existed long before the flag code was written. If the code is ever overhauled (it badly needs it!) it should be amended to address maritime matters.

    The regulations for display of flags in the US Navy are Chapter 12 of NAVREGS and NTP-13B. The NTP makes it clear that the US flag is to be flown from the gaff when underway and from the stern flagstaff when inport. It gives many examples of other flags that are flown at the masthead or yardarms, including personal flags of senior officers, absentee pennants, etc. According to Para 603 of the NTP, it is even correct to fly a foreign national flag at the masthead when dressing ship in a foreign port. This would be higher than the US flag at the stern. Again, this is not a violation of protocol; it is the correct protocol in a nautical context.

    Having also spent a few years in the Navy, I can report that it is quite normal to see other flags flying higher than the US flag, especially in port. In some cases, the jack at the bow is actually higher than the ensign at the stern, because of the sheer of the deck, and command flags, signal flags, etc. are flown from the mast which is higher than either one. The situation when underway is a bit different, because of the varying configurations of the masts, gaffs and yards on different ship-types. On carriers, for example, I believe that the gaff is above the signal yardarms, so that the ensign is above other flags, but this is not always the case. You never fly another flag above the US flag on the same hoist other than the church pennants, but that's not the case that we're talking about here.

    Maybe it would be appropriate for Yacht Clubs to follow the same tradition.

    The bottom line is that all of these regulations -- the NTP, the flag code, the other services' regulations -- were based on existing traditions. Naval and merchant vessels have been flying their national flags at the gaff and flagstaff, and other flags at the mastheads, since long before there even was a US Navy. Yacht clubs have long followed nautical rather than land usage. How would it be our place to tell them to do something else?

    Best regards,

    Peter Ansoff
  5. TomLiberty

    TomLiberty New Member

    Hi Peter
    Maybe some day someone in congress will take notice of how Yacht Clubs display the Flag and make a specific section to Title 4 to clerify usage at Yacht CLubs.

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to clarify my concerns.

    Tom Laliberte
  6. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin


    Very glad to help. I fantasize sometimes about starting a movement to redo the flag code, to bring it up to date, add things that are missing, and resolve all the discrepancies and contradictions. The trouble is that it would be virtually impossible (I think) to get it done in a rational, nonpartisan way. All the politicians would want to get their two cents in.

    For that matter, NTP-13B could use some work. Among other things, it actually quotes bits and pieces of the flag code, which contradict other parts of the NTP. To make things worse, it doesn't even use the actual, codified version of the code, but the original legislation from 1942!

    I noticed that you were in Plymouth. I did some research a few years ago about the two ships from Washington's flotilla that were based in Plymouth at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. I tracked down the original payment voucher to Lucy Hammett, who made the flags for the vessels. One could make a case that the flags she made there were the first flags flown by American warships. As I recall, Lucy was also a direct descendent of John Howland, the "Mayflower" passenger.

    Best regards,

    Peter Ansoff
  7. YCHistorian

    YCHistorian New Member


    A great answer to a perpetual question that all yacht clubs get. Yacht clubs with gaff-rigged flag masts get this question constantly, especially from veterans organizations. The analogy I like to use is that the yacht club is the shore-based equivalent of a ship, and the flag mast is analgous to the ship's mast, with the gaff being the place of honor. Notice I said "flag mast", not
    "flagpole" - most yacht clubs clearly make this distinction. -YC
  8. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Thanks, YC. One interesting aspect of this is that (as far as I know) there is no actual regulation, treaty or whatever that codifies the nautical customs for flag protocol. It's just the way things have been done since national flags evolved.

    As Whitney Smith is fond of pointing out, there's actually nothing that says a country must have a flag. All countries do, however!


    Peter A.
  9. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Dear Tom, YC and all,

    I was over at the Washington Navy Yard this morning, and decided to check out the usage on the two main flagpoles there. (They're in different parts of the Yard -- one is for the Base Commander, and one for the Commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command). Both have poles have yards, but unfortunately neither one has a gaff. Both have the US flag the top of the pole, and the Admiral's flag at the yardarm.


    Peter Ansoff

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