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Flag Geek – Why is a halyard called a halyard?

21st Aug 2018
By Flag Geek |
Advice | Flagpoles |

Every industry has it’s unique, or strange sounding words and acronyms. The niche world of flagpoles is no different, this month we explain what a halyard is.

Every industry has it’s unique, or strange sounding words and acronyms – most of us can speak to colleagues in what to an outsider seems like a foreign language. 

The very niche world of flagpoles and flags is no different and I will attempt to try to explain some of our weird words in this series of blog posts and we’re going to start with “halyard”.  Pronounced “hal-ee-yard” or “hale-ooo-yerrrrd” if you’re a new starter and we’re initiating you for our own amusement. ? 

To most of us, before becoming a “Flag Geek” we might know the halyard as the rope or line – it is as simple as that.  A large number of flagpoles have a halyard.  And a significant number of those halyards are external to the pole i.e. you can actually see and feel them – like the one below wrapped around a cleat.  This is often preferred by traditionalists and for practical purposes makes the halyard more accessible for hoisting or lowering the flag. 

Tip: If you live in an exposed area and/or will be hoisting your flag a lot ask us about our Dynex halyard which is heat treated with a polyurethane coating for additional abrasion resistance 

But some flagpoles like this one, have internal halyards.  Generally speaking this is either for safety and/or security reasons.  For example, if children could access the flagpole, perhaps in a park then it may be preferable to ensure that they can’t get tangled in the halyard.  Also, we supply many Parish Councils with their village green flagpoles which are often near to the local watering hole where it has been known that an inebriated patron finds great amusement in lowering (or sadly vandalising) the halyard and flag.  If it is safely locked away behind a lockable door inside the pole then this can be mitigated. 

So why “halyard” and not “rope”?  Is it not easier to call a spade a spade? 

In short yes but that let’s not toy with all of the world’s traditions as the word halyard comes from the sailing word and literally means “to haul yards” – a quite romantic provenance I’m sure you’d agree.  And of course when you’re hoisting or lowing your flag (rather than a sail) then you are often working your way through many yards of halyard.  As a footnote flags are often still referred to in “yards” – but perhaps we can save that for another day. 

Apparently these sailors are “tailing a halyard” but I don’t know – I’m a flag geek, not a sailing nerd.

So we’ll finish this whirlwind overview of the term “halyard” with 3 things you might not know (or want to know) about halyards:- 

Banana Halyards? 

Before the introduction of synthetic fibres such as the 100% nylon used for our halayards, some halyards were made from “manila” which are the fibres of bananas. 

“Sweating the halyard” 

This is a term used to describe when the “sweater” takes as much slack out of a halyard as possible.  Not so much in the flagpole world but vital in sailing. 

Just ask Granny 

If you’re new to the world of flagpoles and halyards it will be useful for you to learn how to tie a granny knot to attach your flag.  Here is a video to show you how. 



The Flag Geek’s actual identity is unknown.  Some say they have felt a presence whilst looking up at the large Union flag outside Harrison Flagpoles HQ.  Others think is just made up to add an element of mystery at the end of a blog.  Perhaps we’ll never know.  But if you would like The Flag Geek to delve into something flag or flagpole related on your behalf then simply email sales@weareharrisons.com and they might be able to enlighten you……. 

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