Build a DIY flagstaff for your powerboat

Dave Osmolski


I’ve been vacationing in Southwest Florida for longer than I have been a member of United States Power Squadrons. I haven’t visited every yacht basin and marina, but out on the water and along the Intracoastal Waterway, I have never seen a vessel flying the USPS ensign save for the one on my boat.

USPS encourages members to introduce our organization to the public with seminars, classes and by our presence at boat shows. While these are important, I think one of the best ways to advertise our presence is to fly the ensign.

If the vessels in my home squadron and other squadrons in my district are any indication, many members have powerboats 26 feet and under. According to the Operations Manual, the ensign must be flown on the stern staff when flown in lieu of the U.S. ensign on powerboats with or without a signal mast. When both ensigns are flown, the USPS ensign should be flown from the antenna or staff amidships preferably to starboard. My antenna isn’t strong enough to withstand the stresses of flying a flag while traveling at more than 20 knots. I do have a “rocket-launcher” type fishing rod holder capable of holding a flagstaff with a holder just to starboard. I think most boats with a T-top have a similar holder.

You can fabricate a respectable flagstaff from a length of one-inch diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe, a one-inch pipe cap and some stainless steel fasteners. Schedule 40 pipe, a material commonly offered in big-box hardware stores, can be purchased in standard lengths. At many mom-and-pop hardware stores you can buy exactly what you need cut to length. A 12-by-18-inch ensign is proportional for boats up to 20 feet. For vessels up to 30 feet, I’d use a 16-by-24-inch ensign. Larger ensigns could produce stresses greater than a PVC flagstaff can withstand, so I suggest not flying them on a PVC flagstaff.

To build your staff, purchase a 48-inch-long piece of 1-inch PVC tubing—a standard length available in most big-box stores. The 1-inch dimension indicates the tubing’s inside diameter. The tubing’s 1/8-inch-thick walls give it an outside diameter of 1¼ inches. Along with the tubing, buy a 1-inch PVC pipe cap. You’ll need all stainless steel hardware: two 2-inch-long 1/4-20 (1/4-inch 20-thread) eyebolts; four 1/4-inch flat washers; two 1/4-20 Nylok nuts; and a small wood screw to hold the pipe cap in place.

Measure the distance between the centers of your ensign’s eyelets. Drill the top hole in the PVC pipe 2 inches from the top. Drill the second hole the distance you measured from your ensign down the pipe from the first hole. Be sure the two holes are aligned in the pipe. Often the pipe includes marking on the sides; use this marking, which is in a straight line, to align your holes. Insert the eyebolts with one washer beneath the eye and the other on the opposite side of the pipe. Fasten the bolt to the pipe with the Nylok nut. Don’t overtighten the nut. Mount the cap on the top of the pipe. Drill a hole just a bit smaller than the screw you will use to fasten the cap to the pipe and drive the screw home.

At the bottom end of your flagstaff, cut a slot across the tube perpendicular to the orientation of the eyebolts. The slot should be just a bit wider than 1/8 inch. This slot will accommodate the pin that runs across the bottom of the fishing rod holder either on the stern or on the rocket launcher. This will keep the flagstaff from twisting and keep your ensign flying straight and true.

Finally, remove the writing on the side of the pipe using a paper towel moistened with lacquer thinner. In a pinch, you could try nail polish remover, which in all likelihood will remove the writing.

Now be sure to fly the ensign proudly.

David H. Osmolski of Charlotte Power Squadron/27 has been repairing boats since high school when his first boat, a canvas-covered canoe with cedar ribs, leaked in gallons per minute and required constant repair.

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