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What Is a Pig Stick?

M. Haskins
M. Haskins

Pig stick is a nautical term used for a flag staff or pole, commonly made from fiberglass or wood, that is used on yachts and sailboats to carry the burgee. The burgee is a flag or pennant that features the symbol of a recreational boating organization, usually one the skipper of the boat belongs to. A halyard, which is the nautical term for a rope used to hoist a flag or sail, is attached to the pig stick so that the burgee can be raised and lowered. The traditional place to place a pig stick in the sailing rig is at the top, or head, of the forward-most mast, so that the burgee flies above the sails. A burgee can also be placed lower in the rigging, and flown from a flag halyard rather than a pig stick, or it can be flown from the center of the bow using a short flag staff that is known as a jack staff rather than a pig stick.

It has become less common for ships to fly the burgee on a pig stick placed at the top of the forward-most mast. One reason for this is that important and expensive equipment, such as a VHF antenna, is often installed at the top of the masts and can be damaged by the burgee and its halyard. Raising and lowering the burgee when it is placed at the top of the mast also risks tangling, or fouling, the sails.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

To avoid these problems, the burgee can be flown from a halyard attached to a spreader, or spar, lower in the rigging, often the lowest starboard spreader. Another way to avoid fouling the sails is to use non-fouling pig sticks. These pig sticks swivel, making them less likely to tangle the sails. On catboats, which are sailboats with only one mast that is usually placed near the front of the boat, a pig stick is still commonly placed at the top of the mast. This is because there is no other rigging to attach the burgee to on such a vessel.

The length of a pig stick commonly varies from 3 to 13 feet (0.9-3.9 m), depending on the size of sailboat. The attached burgee also varies in size, depending on the size of the vessel. Commonly, it is calculated that every foot (30 cm) of height between the water and the top of the mast adds two inches (5 cm) to the size of the burgee.

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