It's "The Fourth of July" weekend and across the Charleston Peninsula you’ll find our nation’s flag proudly flying. Nothing seems to stir emotions quiet like our country’s flag.
Flying a flag incorrectly also stirs up a lot of emotion. A few years back incorrectly flying the National Flag of Canada, nearly sparked an international incident in Ft Mill South Carolina. Seems the Knight’s baseball stadium crew thought the Canadian flag which features a “Maple Leaf” should look like a leaf hanging from a tree. The visiting team from Toronto was understandably upset when their normally proud Maple Leaf appeared to be rather wilted as it rose to the top of the flag pole upside down.
Such is the case of the gaff rigged flag pole at the Charleston City Marina, which has recently elected to fly the United States Flag also know as the National Ensign, incorrectly.
The harbor master at the City Marina explains his reasoning behind finally giving into to calls they receive about the United States Flag at The Charleston City Marina.
“We receive calls daily complaining about the flag flying lower than the other flags”. He goes on to say “We’ve even had one gentleman threaten to bring his entire VFW unit down to the City Marina and protest.”
At issue is the placement of the United States Flag on the flag pole at the end of the dock. The trouble is that sea rules differ slightly from land rules and while the top of the pole would seem to be the correct location it is not the “place of honor” which on a mast is the “gaff” that being the pole extending outward.
The Charleston City Marina is not alone in the confusion and ongoing battle regarding a “gaff” rigged flag poles.
The National Park Service personnel at Biscayne National Park finally had to place a sign with the picture below and the following explanation at their front desk.
“Nautical style flag poles with yardarm and gaff are meant to represent the sailing vessels of our maritime history. On these flag poles, naval tradition requires that the United States Flag (or Ensign) not be flown from the top of the “mast”, but must be flown from the position of honor — the gaff.”
The "place on honor" on a gaff rigged poles is the same through the world:
“If the flagpole is fitted with a gaff the flag on the gaff has the position of honour, although the national flag is then lower than another flag flying from the peak. This tradition originated in the days of sailing ships and was designed to keep the flag from the ship's rigging.
Taken from the Australian National Flag Association flag etiquette manual.
Below is the National Flag of Canada, being correctly flown on a "gaff" rigged flag pole, notice the "Maple Leaf" is upright.
When the Black Rock Oyster Bar and Grill opened in Fairfield Connecticut a few years ago they bought a used gaff rigged flag pole to compliment their nautical theme.
Soon passers-by and customers were calling the Dana Loehn castigating him for what they thought was a disrespectful display of the American flag.
People have even, he said, taken to sending him printouts of proper flag etiquette.
The only problem is that people were confusing the gaff-rigged pole with the more traditional single flag staff.
While on a single pole, the American flag should be in the top spot, the place of honor on a gaff-rigged pole, with its seagoing origins, is different.
"I'm trying to extend the nautical theme," Loehn said. "It's not at all what we thought would happen; we expected people to say 'this is really nice." Instead, he said people have actually started swearing at him and vowing never to eat at the restaurant.
The same trouble was reported at the Corpus Christi City Marina when they installed a new $22,000.00 gaff rigged flag pole on their Lawrence Street T Head. As soon as they raised the flag to the gaff the calls started coming, as well as emails and letters to the local paper.
According to the United States Power Squadron: “The Palm Coast Yacht Club near St. Augustine, Florida had a continuing battle with a local veterans group which insisted the club was showing disrespect for the flag by flying it at the gaff of the club's flagstaff, a point physically lower than the club's burgee which is flown at the masthead. The matter was settled only after the club obtained a letter from the Secretary of the Navy confirming the fact that in the world of yacht clubs the highest physical point of a flagpole is not necessarily the place of honor”.
Illustration from the United States Power Squadron Manual:
So there you have it the official word as to why Yacht Clubs, Marina’s, Naval Bases, National Parks and even Oyster Bars are correct when the fly the United States Flag from the gaff and not the top of the flag pole.