A Union Flag.
Platinum Jubilee

Union Jack: Do you know the correct way up?

A Union Flag.

A YouGov poll in 2017 showed that fewer than half of the UK population knows the history or even how to correctly fly the Union Flag –  which may also be called the Union Jack.

Because the Union Flag is not symmetrical, many people unknowingly hang it upside down – so here's a handy guide, read on.

Flying the Union Flag upside down

It is often said that when the union flag is flown upside down, it is a form of distress signal – a coded signal and should only be used as such.

In the UK, flying the flag upside down can be considered an insult, even if it was an honest mistake.

When shown two images of the Union Flag – one being flown the upside down, and one the correct way – only 45% of people who were asked could identify which was being flown incorrectly.

Do you know the correct way up?

When flown correctly, the fat white bar in the top corner of the flag, closest to the flagpole, should be along the top edge of the flag, not the flagpole edge.

When was the Union Flag first created?

The first use of the Union Flag was in 1606 and only combined the flags of England and Scotland.

The present Union Flag dates from 1801 when St Patrick's Cross was added following the union of Great Britain and Ireland. 

Why is Wales not featured on the Union Flag?

Wales is already represented by the Cross of St George.

When the Union Flag was created, Wales had already been invaded and was part of the former Kingdom of England.

What is the difference between the Union Jack and Union Flag?

Some people believe it can only be called the Union Jack when it's sailed at sea, and when on land, it should be called the Union Flag.

Others argue that it should only be called the Union Jack when it is flown on a ship or vessel at sea, because a "jack" is a small flag that is hung over a mast on a boat.

Why is it called the Union Jack?

So, the name is thought to be derived from the naval term 'jackstaff' – the small vertical spar (pole) on the bow of a ship, where the Union Jack is flown.

Union Jack picture MoD/Crown copyright
'Union Jack': (Picture MOD/Crown copyright).

Is It called the Union Jack or Union Flag?

A publication called Flying Flags, produced by Parliament's Flags & Heraldry Committee, confirms that both names can be used no matter where it is flown.

When can you fly the Union Flag?

Flags should be flown every day of the year, from sunrise to sunset.

If a flag is to be flown at night, it should be illuminated.

Can you fly the Union Flag in your garden?

You do not need to seek permission to fly the Union Flag. Anyone can fly the flag and it is actively encouraged.

However, you may need to seek permission from your local council authority if you intend to plonk a huge flagpole in your front garden.

Due to high winds, flags may become torn or ripped. They should be replaced when this happens, as flying a soiled or damaged flag can be considered disrespectful.

Laying the Union Flag on a coffin

The Union Flag is a form of respect – especially for those who have given their lives for their country. If you intend to lay the Union Flag upon a coffin, it should be placed so that the top left corner of the flag is over the deceased's left shoulder.

When should the Union Flag be flown at half-mast?

It should be flown at half-mast from the announcement of the death of the sovereign, up until the state funeral.

The correct way to raise a flag to half-mast is to fully raise the flag to the top of the pole, hold there for a second, then lower the flag down to two-thirds of the way up the pole.

Remembrance and the Union Flag

Flags will usually be flown at half-mast during all Royal and national days of mourning, although Union Flags should fly at full-mast on Remembrance Sunday.