When did the ensign move from the stern to the gaff?


Conor H

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Jan 25, 2021
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Hello all,

I have noticed that after WW1 (it seems) it became much more common for liners to fly their ensign from a gaff on the mainmast, rather than the stern exclusively, as with most liners pre-war, such as Oceanic 2, Lusitania and Mauretania, and the Olympic trio. Those that survived the war seem to have taken to flying it from a gaff as well. Was there a specific time when this was mandating by shipping companies or international law? Or was it a more gradual adoption?

This is based on observations of photographs and made with approximate timings, and I am by no means an expert, so please feel free to correct me or provide additional information. Many thanks!
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Hello all,

I have noticed that after WW1 (it seems) it became much more common for liners to fly their ensign from a gaff on the mainmast, rather than the stern exclusively, as with most liners pre-war, such as Oceanic 2, Lusitania and Mauretania, and the Olympic trio. Those that survived the war seem to have taken to flying it from a gaff as well. Was there a specific time when this was mandating by shipping companies or international law? Or was it a more gradual adoption?

This is based on observations of photographs and made with approximate timings, and I am by no means an expert, so please feel free to correct me or provide additional information. Many thanks!
Hello Connor.
Flags in the old days were much more important than they are today. Their use on a ship followed strict etiquette.
In port, ensigns were flown from sunrise to sunset from the stern. At sea, and out of sight of land, most merchant ships did not fly the ensign at all. However, if they did, it was flown from the gaff pole on the mainmast. (if they had one.).
Another problem with flying a flag at the gaff, was soot from the funnels...particularly in a coalburner which most ships were at the beginning of the last century.
Hope this helps.
 
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