Skylon “Floating” Flagpole


A flagpole suspended off the ground by a series of lines, so that it appears to be floating, can be a really neat project. The structural principle has been referred to as tensegrity, and is based on using one half the lines to lift the pole off the ground, and the other half to give it stability, supporting it in a vertical position. On occasion, Scouts choose to use more than three upright support poles, but just like with a simple flagpole employing three supporting guylines, three upright poles provide the required balance needed to hold the pole up straight. The longer the support poles, the higher off the ground the flagpole can go.

The Crew

There are many ways Scouts go about constructing  a suspended flagpole. The following materials were used for this particular flag display:

  • one 20-foot bamboo pole (flagpole)
  • three 10-foot x 3-inch pine spars (upright support poles)
  • nine pieces of rebar, sawed to 3 feet each
  • six 50-foot lengths of 3/8-inch manila (guylines)
  • three 3/8-inch double pulley blocks
  • 50-foot length of 1/4-inch braided nylon (for the halyard) along with a couple of clips
  • metal ring
  • six pioneering stakes
  • wooden mallet (for driving in the stakes)
  • club hammer (for driving in the rebar)
  • roll of friction tape
  • lengths of 1/4-inch braided nylon cord
  • binder twine

The following initial steps were taken for this particular flag display:

  1. SkylonPully
    Double Pulley Block and Tackle

    Where the flagpole will be placed, 9 feet from the center of an equilateral triangle, three holes are made, 4 inches in diameter and 2 feet deep.

  2. A double pulley is securely tied to the top of each 10-foot support pole and a 50-foot guyline is reeved through each sheave.
  3. A 10-foot upright support pole is planted in each hole which is packed with excavated material. Three lengths of rebar are pounded in around each spar.
  4. A span of friction tape is applied to the areas of the 20-foot flagpole, where the lines will be tied (bamboo is slick)
  5. The metal ring is tied to the tip of the 20-foot pole and the halyard is threaded through.
  6. A 1-1 anchor is installed about 9 feet behind each 10-foot spar
Jury Mast Knot Applied over Friction Tape

The following rigging procedure was followed for this particular flag display:

  1. A tight jury mast knot (#1168 in The Ashley Book of Knots) is applied over the friction tape at the bottom and 4 feet from the top of the flagpole.
  2. The guylines from each upright support pole are tied to corresponding loops in the jury mast knots at the top and bottom of the flagpole with two half hitches, the tail of which is tightly seized to the standing part using binder twine with a West Country Round Lashing.

The following procedure was followed to raise and support this particular flag display:

  1. Skylon 1-1
    1-1 Anchor

    When the flagpole is rigged and everything is in place, two or more Scouts lift up the pole in the center of the triangle, and hold it erect.

  2. One Scout mans each lifting guyline tied to the bottom of the pole. On signal, they all pull these lifting lines until the strain assumed by the Scouts holding the pole erect is replaced by the lower, lifting guylines.  (Note: If the pole is taller or heavier, an additional Scout needs to man each guyline attached to the top, in order to stabilize the pole as it’s being held up, keeping it from tilting or falling. However, tension is only applied to offset any overt tilting.)
  3. SkylonTop
    Top Stabilizing Guylines

    When the lifting guylines have taken up the strain to hold the flagpole at the desired height (about half the length of the upright support poles protruding from their holes), a butterfly knot is applied at the appropriate place and they are secured to the 1-1 anchor with a rope tackle.

  4. When the lower guylines are well secured, the upper, stabilizing guylines can be adjusted so that the flagpole is held up in a straight position. When the flagpole is even, the upper lines in turn are secured to their respective anchors with a rope tackle.

—> An alternate approach can be taken in which the flagpole is first stabilized in an upright position by the three upper guylines. These can then be temporarily secured, readying the flagpole to be raised off the ground. Once standing in a vertical position, upward force is applied to the flagpole by a Scout or Scouts holding on to the bottom and lifting, in conjunction with a simultaneous pulling on the bottom lines and a simultaneous easing off on the top lines.  This lifting process is illustrated HERE.

Easy Tall Flagpole

At most Scouting events, there isn’t a permanently-installed, tall, metal pole for raising and lowering the colors. During opening ceremonies at these Scout gatherings, a tall flagpole made by joining long spars together can impress and inspire.

Opening Ceremony at a District Camporee
Opening Ceremony at a District Camporee

What is meant by tall? Naturally, the height of the flagpole depends on the size of the flag and the size of the area where it will be raised. For the most part, the flags used in Scouting are 3 x 5 feet, and the average size outdoor flagpole for a 3 x 5-foot flag is 20 feet. Of course, the main criteria for flagpole height is how far away you want the flag to be seen. But also, flying a flag high is synonymous with pride, and the taller the pole the greater the impact. However, this post is about a simple flagpole and not a pioneering display of goliath proportions. The specific flagpole featured on this page topped out at 32 feet, which was impressive, but not uncanny.

Building and putting up a taller flagpole requires more attention than one for an easy campsite setup, but all in all it’s still a relatively simple operation. Basically, four things are needed:

  1. Long spars
  2. An effective way to join the spars together so the flagpole will be rigid
  3. A series of planned steps to take before standing the flagpole up *
  4. A crew to lift the flagpole to its vertical position

Long spars. Depending on your point of reference, the definition of long spars is relative, and will hinge on what’s available in your geographic area and how practical it is to procure and transport them. Naturally, the longer the spars the fewer you’ll need to make the pole tall, which of course has obvious advantages. Again, depending on your point of reference, a long spar can be seen as having a length anywhere from 10 to 20 feet.

Tall View
Simple, Tall, Pioneering Flagpole

In the flagpole featured on this page, there are three long spars: 16-foot bottom, 14-foot middle, and 10-foot top. The lower the spar, the larger the diameter. The butt end of the next spar up should be as near to the same diameter as possible to the top of the one it’s joining.

West Country Round Lashing Joining Two Bamboo Spars

An effective way to join the spars together so the flagpole will be rigid. Obviously, the rigidity of the flagpole is a primary concern. You don’t want it to bend and  you don’t want it to come apart. It has to ever-withstand the stress of its own weight in a vertical position, as well as the weakening forces of wind, rain, and varying temperatures. When it comes to joining spars together to extend their length, there are basically four lashings that can be employed. For the tightest and most secure lashing, the West Country Round Lashing works really very well.

When the utmost rigidity is required, a quarter of the spars’ lengths should overlap each other. Using long lengths of 1/4-inch manila rope, start each of the two lashings approximately 1-1/2 to 2 inches from the ends of the overlapping spars and tie at least ten tight half knots (overhand knots) towards the middle of the overlap. Depending on the length of the lashing rope and the size of the spars, for added security, additional lashings can be tied e.g. in the photo to the left, where the bottom spar and the middle spar overlap, four West Country Round Lashings were applied.

* A series of planned steps to take before standing the flagpole up. Before transforming the finished flagpole from horizontal to vertical, these steps need to be taken:

  1. Determine the spot on the ground where the flagpole will stand and dig a hole about 4 inches deep with a diameter just a little larger than that of the flagpole’s butt end.
  2. Position the flagpole so the bottom is right over the hole.
  3. To attach the rope halyard, tie a small rope grommet and pulley to the top of the flagpole with a prusik.
  4. Reave the prepared rope halyard through the tackle.
  5. Attach four guylines of the  proper length (see: Guylines.) Tie the guylines to the flagpole about 3/4 up the pole with four rolling hitches. Tie them on so they will each line out to their respective anchors.
  6. Measure out the proper distance from the bottom of the flagpole in four perpendicular directions and mark the spots where the front pioneering stake will be driven into the ground for each 1-1 anchor. The rule of thumb is drive in the stakes at a distance equal to twice the height from where the knots were tied, measured out from the base of the flagpole.

  7. Build four 1-1 anchors in readiness for attaching the four guylines.

A crew to lift the flagpole to its vertical position. When ready, four crew members each take hold of a guyline and position themselves in line with their respective anchors. Additional crew members line up along the length of the flagpole ready to walk the pole up to its vertical position. One member is stationed at the bottom to guide the pole into the hole as the others lift. When everyone is in position, a signal caller gives the go ahead to lift. Those with the guylines pass the ends of their lines behind the front stake of their anchor. Once the flagpole is standing upright, each guyline is secured to its anchor with a rope tackle. Final adjustments can then be made to each guyline until the pole is standing straight.


Simple Flagpoles

During the gathering period, a flagpole is lashed together using four Scout staves. A carabiner is tied to the top, a halyard is strung through, and the pole is lifted and secured with three guy lines. The flag is raised as part of the troop's opening ceremony.
Flagpole using 5 Scout Staves  erected for the Troop Meeting’s Opening Ceremony

Flags engender pride! Flying ’em high is great for Scout spirit, and making a flagpole is really easy. All you need are straight sticks (Scout Staves work great), rope for round lashings, rope for guylines, and three stakes.

View Video: Raising a Simple Flagpole Demonstration

Scout Stave Flagpole with a Halyard in the Pioneering Village at the 2017 National Jamboree

The key to making a simple flagpole out of shorter poles is round lashings and knowing where to tie them. The space where the two poles are joined, gets two tight round lashings—one on either side of the overlap and right near the ends of each pole. The length and thickness of the poles being lashed together will determine how much they need to overlap, and how many tight wraps need to be taken. Using 5-foot Scout Staves, you can simply overlap them about 10 inches with a couple of 6-foot lashing ropes. With practice, a Scout patrol can make a   15-foot flagpole out of four Scout staves in a few short minutes.

15-Foot Scout Stave Flagpole without a Halyard

The key to lifting and securing a simple flagpole is tying on three guylines about 3/4 of the way up, and extending them out equidistant from one another. The stakes should form an equilateral triangle, and should ideally be hammered in a distance away from the flagpole of at least twice the height of where they’re tied. So, if the flagpole is 15 feet, and the guylines are attached 11 feet up, the stakes should be 22 feet from the pole for optimum stability. NOTE: Under many circumstances, this distance can be much shorter and still provide the support to hold the flag up, even during lengthy periods of use.

Quick Lash and Attach
Quick Lash and Attach

While the flagpole is being lashed together, a Scout or Scouts can be putting the stakes in the ground, pacing out the proper distance and hammering them in to form that equilateral triangle.

Before raising the pole, the three guylines should be tied at about 3/4 the way up using roundturns with two half hitches or rolling hitches. Then when the flagpole is being held erect, three Scouts can each take a guyline and attach it to a stake with a tight taut-line hitch, or for taller, heavier flagpoles, a rope tackle.

If the flag is not to be ceremoniously raised and lowered, or with shorter flagpoles, a halyard is not necessary.

Simple Halyard

Easy Tall Flagpole

Flagpole Race