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Hanging Flags Vertically

Last modified: 2014-06-07 by rob raeside
Keywords: vertical flags | indoor flags |
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The rule is that when a flag is hung vertically the honour point (i.e., the top-left hand corner) should still be at the top-left. This means that most flags rotate 90 degrees and are then turned over. For example, the US flag has to be reversed to keep the canton in the top-left. The union flag just rotates, so as to keep the thick white stripe uppermost in the top-left corner. This all stems from heraldic practice, and basically mean creating new flags for many countries. More difficult are the aspect ratios - I modify the aspect ratios to 2:3 so that when hung in groups the flags are all the same height (I tried varying the widths but that looked daft, and having different lengths just doesn't work vertically).
Graham Bartram, 8 August 1996

Flags are often hoisted vertically, especially in Central and Eastern Europe (including Italy, Austria and Germany). Flags with symbols on them can be hoisted vertically in two ways - either the symbol can be left in the position as if the flag was 'normal' (as is done with the Croatian flag), or it could be rotated, so that it remains in a horizontal position, even if the flag is rotated (a well known example is the flag of Liechtenstein).

It should be pointed out that normally the vertically hoisted flag is displayed from the reverse, so that the side that is seen when horizontally hoisted comes to the observer's left. The flag is therefore not just rotated 90 degrees, but also flipped around. There are, of course exceptions, which will be noted.

I believe that most of the flags when hoisted vertically should be displayed on their reverse side (i.e., that the upper part of the flag comes to the observer's left). With bi- and tricolours, there is no problem. The problem arises with the flags that have some symbol on them - whether they should be displayed rotated together with the flags or not. Here are some that do not change the emblem, i.e., the flag is the same as if it would be for normal hoisting:
Željko Heimer, 7 August 1996

On page 47 of Znamierowski's World Encyclopedia of Flags [zna99] there is a short discussion on vertical hoisting of the national flags. Four countries are mentioned forbidding such practice, namely Brazil, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. Is that really so? But then what about vertically hoisted flags of those countries on some recent sporting events (this seems to be popular there lately). At least for Saudi Arabia we have on FOTW special design for vertical hoisting. Is it official, and if so was it made official lately (so Znamierowski could be actually right)? Or is it just the record of what is done in practice, weather official or not.

When I think of it, I can't remember ever seeing a Pakistan or Sri Lanka flag vertically hoisted in their countries (OK, I admit I have not seen much of them otherwise, but...) For Brazil, I am not so sure...

Still regarding the same issue, Znamierowski writes that Liechtenstein, Slovakia and Slovenia have special design of their flags for vertical hoisting. In case of Liechtenstein and Slovakia, I am not sure, it may be that the laws on flag in those countries indeed have special paragraphs devoted to how to deal with their flags when hoisted vertically, but I do not think that one should call those designs anything more special the, say Austrian or German state flags with the coat-of-arms vertical on vertically hoisted flags, though if they maybe do not have that practice specially mentioned in laws.

In case of Slovenia, I am quite sure that there is no special design prescribed by law for vertical hoisting - only horizontal flag is in the law (I should double-check, but...). And therefore the design is not more special the aforementioned Germany or Austria or even Hungary.

What is even more irritating is that just this paragraph that is so "intricate" is abruptly broken at the end of page 47 in the middle of the sentence. I don't remember seeing this in the list of corrections.
Željko Heimer, 25 March 2000

According to information supplied to me by the Flag Research Center, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Liechtenstein, Vatican City, Slovakia, and Slovenia have special flag designs for vertical hoisting. The list provided to me is not a complete list. In addition, it notes that some flags should have their normal top to the left and some to the right when hoisted vertically.
Dave Martucci, 26 March 2000

"Regular flags" (the lack of a better name shows that at least in English they are the normal sort of flag) are made to fly from a flagpole, so that either side of the cloth may be visible to the viewer, depending on the amount of wind and the position of the viewer with respect to the pole. In this context, the most natural context for a flag, there is no use for the concept of "obverse" and "reverse", no matter how similar or different the two sides are.

There are two aspects of the flag's orientation that may be relevant when a flag is hoisted from a pole. One of the edges must be closest to the pole, and so it is called the hoist. In general, which edge is at the top also matters.

When a flag is displayed on a wall, or in a similar situation where only one side of the flag can be seen, it is common for there to be one side of the flag which meant to be visible, rather than the other. This side is the obverse. In general this side will have the top hoist (the honour point) in the position given the most honour in the relvant culture, whether that is the top right of the top left.

If there is significant difference between the two sides, then the design considered more important is found on the obverse. A particular example is flags with lettering that is only the right way around on the obverse.

A flag may also be displayed vertically with only one side visible. In this case, the hoist of the flag is at the top. If the flag is hung with the obverse visible, then the top of the flag will be at the side opposite to where the hoist is when the obverse is shown horizontally. There is therefore a choice between showing the obverse of the flag, and keeping the honour point in the most honourable position.

This will depend on the design of the flag, as well as the emphasis placed on the different aspects of the design by the relevant culture. If the reverse is completely different to the obverse, then it would usually be normal to display the obverse. If the design of the flag places some importance on something placed in the top hoist, then having this in the honour point would probably be considered more important, and so the reverse would be shown. When neither of these is the case, but there is a flag which is not vertically symmetrical, the use is more varied. Some groups may prefer that the top of the flag is placed to the left/right, particularly if there is a canton (United States, Australia), whereas others may simply have the obverse visible. (For the United Kingdom, the obverse is shown, but for the reason that the St Andrew's cross is in the honour position.) Others may consider it so important that part of the flag be in a certain orientation, that a separate flag for vertical hoisting is used, with elements of the flag rotated (Saudia Arabia, North Korea).

The same principles apply to different situations where only one side of the flag is visible, even if they are applied differently. For example, the US flag is hung vertically with the reverse showing so that the canton is at the viewer's left (bearer's/speaker's right), but when it is placed on a coffin the obverse is visible, as the honour position is considered to be the deceased's upper left.

I believe that these are the general principles. Of course, in any particular country, the rules may be spelt out (or not) to varying degrees. They are often in the form of a code that cannot be enforced on civilians. The perception that there a "correct" way to display the flag in various situations must exist at all probably varies in strength from place to place.

This becomes even clearer when it comes to flags being hung (vertically or horizontally) from a wire in an open area where they are meant to be visible from either side. Unlike the case of a flag on a flagpole, there are two ways of hanging the flag which seem equally valid by basic principles. Some traditions, however will specify that top/hoist of the flag should be towards a particular direction, such as the north or the east. I tend to think that this seemingly arbitrary idea exists simply to make sure that there is only one possibility.

Another issue comes up when arranging several flags in one of these situations. Should they be hoisted to be given honour according to the understanding of the location of the flags, or of the people the flag represents. In my experience, each flag is usually treated by its own rules. An example is the flags at the main stadium at the 2000 Olympic Games. (I have unfortunately lost my notes on exactly which flag was hoisted in which way.) Some flags had the obverse showing in one direction, and some in the other, although this may have been because noone tried to standardise them. It is clearly a good idea to use the flag's own rules when there are vertical hoisting versions of the flag such as Saudi Arabia. The same goes for flags with very different reverses, such as the Soviet Union. It is less obvious when the issue is only whether left or right is given precedence. A completely practical argument for hanging each according to its own is that it saves having to think about how local rules should apply to a different flag.
Jonathan Dixon, 14 November 2004

Concerning the rules for flying flags vertically, flags seem to fall in one of these categories:
   1 Separate vertical version of the flag;
   2 Flag is rotated for vertical hanging;
   3 Flag is flipped for vertical hanging;
   4 Doesn't matter for the design;
   5: Method of vertical hanging implied but not without problems.
   6: Nobody has ever bothered with this.

Liechtenstein comes to mind for category 1, having a separate banner, as well as Frisia, with an informal solution to this problem.

For category 2, none come to mind right now, though some have been mentioned over time. See United Kingdom.

The United States are an example of category 3 for their Stars & Stripes, which seems to have given most Usanians the idea that all flags, or at least all flags for parts of the USA, fall in category 3. Most tri-stripes are also considered to be in this category. I'm not sure about bi-stripes.

Category 4 is obviously the category that such cross flags as Swiss and Scandinavian cross flags fall into.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 23 May 2014

Flags known to have variants for vertical hanging

Country Flag variant in vertical position Contributor
Austrian state flag, Austrian subdivisions arms are rotated Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
Bosnia & Herzegovina both normal and rotated shields have been seen Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
British Virgin Islands shield with virgin is rotated so that she remains upright Graham Bartram, 07 August 1996
Cambodia The blue stripes are narrower than usual to allow the Angkor-Vat temple to be (rotated horizontally) Ivan Sache, 19 November 2000
Canada flag is hung with reverse showing (i.e., maple leaf stalk on right) Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
Czech Republic the white stripe should be on the left side Ales Brozek, 07 August 1996
Dominica flag is hung with reverse showing, but parrot retains original position Graham Bartram, Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
Germany, and its subdivisions flags with arms have the arms rotated Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
Hungary state flag with arms has arms rotated Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
Liechtenstein crown rotates Graham Bartram, 07 August 1996
Poland state flag with arms has arms rotated Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
Portugal I believe the arms do not rotate Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996
Saudi Arabia The reverse of the flag is seen, so the shahada must be reversed on it, so that it can still be read. The sword, however, is left in a reverse position.
South Africa flag is hung with reverse showing (i.e., red stripe on left) Željko Heimer, 07 August 96
United Kingdom flag is hung with obverse showing (i.e., it rotates 90 degrees) Željko Heimer, 07 August 96
USA The flag is hung with the reverse showing. If it is outdoors (e.g., on the street, or at a scout camp), the blue canton should always be on the north or east side, never the west or south. If the flag is hoisted vertically indoors, or in a place where it is obvious what is the 'right side' for the viewers (e.g., just behind an outdoor stage) the flag should be hoisted with the canton to the viewers' left. Željko Heimer, 07 August 1996; Al Fisher, 08 August 1996