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Flag Wear

Last modified: 2006-06-09 by phil nelson
Keywords: flag wear | swallowtail flag | rectangular flag |
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I have recently come back from a week on Lundy (Devon, U.K. - see and there is more talk about a possible flag for the Island (quite a lot of it, it must be admitted, provoked by me). A consensus may be emerging for a design using a Scandinavian cross in English colours, probably with something in the canton. Apart from the design, a very interesting comment was made that perhaps a swallow-tail might be more resistant to the considerable wear and tear suffered by a flag left flying 24 hours a day in a windy place like Lundy.

It is certainly the case that the two flags which fly now on Lundy (both St George's Crosses) need replacing several times a year, and spend a lot of their time looking very silly with most of the fly missing (which is also a good practical reason for a Scandinavian Cross, since it would take longer for its proportions to be lost as the fly blows away).
André Coutanche, 20 April 2006

In our experience whilst swallow-tailed flags sometimes appear to be more durable initially, once they start to die they die very fast indeed - perhaps because weather-damage is not spread evenly over the fly. Overall, rectangular flags last much better with smaller flags always outlasting larger ones (hence the practice - more common in Scandinavia than the UK - of displaying smaller 'storm' flags during the inclement winter months).
Charles Ashburner, 21 April 2006

Flags fray at the edges, and rectangles have shorter perimeters than swallowtails. I suspect that theoretically a flag with a curved fly would be better still.
James Dignan, 21 April 2006

As a former signals officer I was much concerned with getting the maximum life out of all my flags on charge in a very restricted budget environment, while at the same time keeping the ship's reputation for neatness intact. Flying frayed flags would soon elicited sarcastic signals from the senior officer present and in turn require the signals officer to provide reasons in writing to the captain. Very embarrassing and not career enhancing. Frayed flags were therefore not allowed to be flown. Flags were regularly inspected by the Yeoman of Signals. Fraying was not allowed to become visible and all flags were regularly reseamed along the fly with double stitching to make them last as long as possible. Further life extension care required that the normal daily and Sunday ceremonial ensigns and jacks had to be replaced with storm flags whenever the weather made this necessary. This was a subjective condition depending on the judgment of the Officer of the Day and frequently led to harsh words between the signals officer and the Officers of the Day who had failed to replace the ensign and jack alongside in what he considered to be a howling gale and they looked upon as a mild breeze!

The experience gained from all this is that normal size daily ensigns and jacks tended to last a fairly long time if cared for properly in this manner. The one flag which had to be replaced quite regularly was the commissioning pennant. Being long and narrow it suffered more from the whip-lash effect at the tip of the fly (even though squared) in a strong breeze and started fraying much more quickly than the squared flies of ensigns and jacks with a strong seam along the fly would do. I imagine, contrary to what Charles said, that for example a broad pennant, would be subject to the same higher wear and tear at the points of the swallow-tail due to the whip-lash effect than a squared fly would be, where this effect is evenly spread over the whole length of the fly seam.

I agree with James that a rounded fly would probably be even more resistant to fraying, but this is not a very common flag design these days. Descate might be considered although there are still points which can be subject to fraying.

My recommendation to the Islanders of Lundy would be to select a normal rectangular flag and care for it properly by reseaming the fly as soon as the slightest sign of fraying becomes evident and to replace it with a storm size double-ply flag with reinforced stiching, whenever the weather gets too boisterous. They will be surprised how long such a flag can be made to last without looking tatty and becoming too heavy a burden on the budget.
Andries Burgers, 21 April 2006

Flags with a plain field (e.g. Japan) or horizontal tricolors (Germany) tri-bands (Austria), or multistripes (US) can be shortened several times before they look "too short." Vertical tricolors can be shortened some, but soon the last stripe will look obviously shorter than the others. Perhaps worst would be flags with diagonal elements, such as saltires or the UK's UJ. Soon, the diagonals no longer reach to the corners and instead end in the fly edge.

Perhaps one more design possibility would be a flag with a narrow stripe down the fly edge. After being shortened a few times, the entire stripe could be replaced.
Terence Martin, 21 April 2006

That doesn't sound at all do-able. I'm thinking that they'd probalby just replace the whole flag altogether if that happens!

I've noticed a lot of times here that the fly bar of the national flag is sometimes worn off. (I've seen it a few times on car flags, which I guess would have more wear than the typical national flag, but others are on buildings and other structures where it looks like it's hard to get to to replace the flag, thereby increasing the chance of wear from extended use.) David Kendall, 21 April 2006

Actually, I think that in the old days, with the common materials used for flags in those times, this made a lot more sense than it does today. From what I've seen, flags nowadays rip apart very randomly. I've seen once a blue flag of beack quality (it was a blue flag, wasn't it, António?) that had the blue field almost intact but the logo completely torn apart. I've seen flags with little problems in the fly but with the top completely ripped away. And I have this idea that many contemporary materials are not that easy to properly sew at home.
Jorge Candeias, 21 April 2006

I think the type of wind wave that flows through a fluttering flag would be considered a transverse wave. The energy of any given wave moving through a flag must have an exit point or exit points.

In the case of a rectangular flag on an upright vertical pole, the point of exit is broad because the energy is running at a parallel angle due to the fact that the top and bottom of a rectangular flag are parallel to one another.

In the case of any kind of flag with a pointed end or ends of some sort, the exiting energy is funneled into specific points at the fly, meaning those specific points take all the "whoopin" as it were. Thus they will fray more quickly.

Having said all of that, it is interesting that even on rectangular flags, the first point that generally shows wear is the upper fly corner. Our science dept. is going to write up an explanation stating why there is an upward energy dispersal on rectangular flags. When I have it in my hand, I will pass it along.

It could be a bit complex based on flag size, material, wind velocity and a host of other factors.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to fly a flag with a rounded edge along with a rectangular flag in order to see which design would last longer. My money would still be on the rectangle. I could be wrong though.
Clay Moss, 23 April 2006