One of the most basic differentiators of commercial flagpoles is the configuration of their halyards. All halyard configurations fall into two categories - internal and external. (For those of you who may be new to flagpole terminology - the halyard is the rope or cable that is used to raise or lower the flag on a flagpole.) Internal halyard flagpoles can be further sub-divided into those with internal cable halyards and those with internal rope halyards. (We won't discuss internal rope halyard flagpoles in this article because we feel that they carry some risks and difficulties of use that make them an unattractive purchase option.)
If you've been thinking of buying a flagpole, you may have noticed right away that you see a great many of both types advertised on the web. You may have further seen that internal halyard flagpoles tend to be noticeably more expensive than external halyard flagpoles. But are they worth the cost? Let's look a little closer...
External halyard flagpoles on the other hand are decidedly less secure. This is because the rope is on the outside of the pole and is simply wrapped around a cleat to secure the flag. Any passerby could easily lower the flag on an external halyard pole. (Locking cleat covers with halyard channels could be a solution for an existing flagpole installation, but for new installations where security is important, it would almost always be a better idea to get an internal halyard pole.)
There's also the question of service life. The cable that is used for internal halyard flagpoles is usually extremely strong, stainless steel, aircraft cable. This means that the cable is very unlikely to break, rust or otherwise wear out. And, since it is contained inside the flagpole when the flag is fully raised, it is not exposed to the elements. This means that the internal cable should provide many, many years of service. But this system is not entirely risk free. What can sometimes happen is that the cable can become fouled in the winch while lowering the flag. This usually occurs because the winch is cranked too fast while lowering the flag and the amount of cable being paid out by the winch exceeds the amount that the flag has been lowered. If the flag stops descending for whatever reason, and the winch handle continues to be turned to lower the flag, a "birds nest" can form inside the winch chamber which might be very difficult to untangle, if at all. However, as long as care is used in lowering the flag and in making sure that it continues to descend down the pole as the cable is payed out - this should rarely happen.
External rope halyards, on the other hand, are fully exposed to the elements at all times. In addition, rope is less durable than cable. So over time, it will wear from friction against the pole and from the damaging effects of direct sun. External rope halyards should regularly be inspected for early signs of wear. When this wear does become visible, there is fortunately a very easy way to replace the rope, which we will cover in another article.
So which halyard configuration is right for you? It probably comes down to a question of budget. For reasons of durability and security, the internal halyard pole is generally the recommended choice. However, if your budget doesn't allow the extra cost and you are willing to check your rope halyard on a regular basis (whenever your change your flag, or every few months) then you will still get a great deal of satisfaction from an external halyard flagpole.