squareknots-crop

In the loop: A guide to square knots, and how to wear them

You’ve been awarded a square knot. Congratulations! Now what?

If you’ve been honored with one of the 34 square knots currently available (see the full list below), waste no time in sewing that badge of honor to your uniform. Though they don’t tell the whole story of a Scouter’s impact, these tiny rectangles provide great evidence of a volunteer’s efforts.

But before you dust off the sewing machine, read these tips:

Location, location, location: Knots should go over the left pocket, as seen from the wearer’s perspective. Line them up in rows of three in any order you choose. Typically, the knot you deem most important is worn on the bottom row on your right, but that’s your call. If your knot total isn’t divisible by three — aka you have a row of one or two knots — you can either center them in the row or keep them aligned to your right. The latter method means you won’t have to re-sew those knots if you get a new one.

Count to nine: If you’ve been a Scouter for some time, those knots could really stack up. How high they go above your pocket is up to you, but the BSA recommends wearing no more than nine — or three rows of three.

Don’t flip out: Yes, square knots have a right-side-up. The chart above explains the process of determining which end goes where. This can be tricky on single-color knots, but if you squint really hard you can tell which loop on the knot is above the other.

Which knot is which?: Let’s hope you can identify the knots on your own uniform, but it’s likely you’ll see a knot or two out in the field that you don’t recognize. Here’s a handy chart (click to enlarge): 

112 thoughts on “In the loop: A guide to square knots, and how to wear them

  1. Nick is absolutely correct….while several of us have more than one uniform, the vast majority of us only own ONE…So the BSA about 12 years ago now, allows you to wear the medals corresponding to the square knot insignia which may or may not be on the shirt at the same time for FORMAL OCCASSIONS ONLY. You should avoid the confusion and wear a shirt without the “square knot insiginia” but that’s asking folks to have a plain unform shirt for those rare events. No more than five medals can be worn suspended from the top edge of the left uniform pocket. No more than five awards should be worn suspended from around your neck…Take a look at the BSA’s Uniform Guide to see line drawings showing how to wear them (because I can’t get my photographer and myself in the same place at the same time to provide you a color image of how those things should be worn…I’ll get it done soon however).

  2. I sure wish we could make the 3 rows of 3 a rule rather than a suggestion. I saw a dingbat with TWENTY FOUR knots (some of them fake like the little Wood Badge one) and no World Crest on his shirt. He looked like a complete dork.

    I think if I wore them all, I have 18, but I just wear the nine that are important to me personally.

    • I did this before in another discussion which went down this line…but here goes again:

      Which NINE or 12 (or even 15!) you want *me* to wear, Bob?

      Do I wear only the six youth awards I earned as a kid? Okay. I can do this. This leaves three more (if we’re going at nine being the ‘top limit’) or six more (which would make it 12).

      Do I wear the Scouters’ Training Award and Scouters’ Key? Okay. How about the adult Religious emblem? Ummm yeah. Gotta represent the faith and the other faiths which gave me their religious service medallions. How about the Whitney Young Service Award? District Award of Merit? Silver Beaver — oh yeah.

      (keeping track of the number??)

      So now I am faced with decisions: Do I wear the International Scouter Award? The Speakers Bank Award? West Fellowship?
      Um…Don’t know. And then there’s a couple others like the Boyce Organizer Award and the Sea Badge. Wait. I can wear the actual Sea Badge on the uniform where it’s supposed to be worn. One less knot.

      Then there’s those five Cub Scout (Training) award knots. I earned the WEBELOS Den Leader, Cub Scouter, Den Leader Coach — and then because I’m one of those OLD guys, the old Den Leader Training and Den Leader Coach Training Awards.

      So tell me — which nine, 12, or even 15 do I wear? Go to my website and look at the photo of me outside Baghdad, Iraq and you’ll see which ones I have decided and which ones I chose otherwise.

      THAT is why we have problems with this…because each person, NOT the BSA, has made their own valued decisions for their own reasons, what personal recognitions they chose to wear on the field uniform. And dude — I am NOT going to be *that guy* who walks up to some 80 or 90 year old Scouter and tell him “sir, you can only wear nine of those now….you look foolish.”

      I’d rather be slapped around with a cold salmon, thank you very much! *smiling*

    • I personally do not think that any man or woman who volunteers their time and resources to help the youth in Scouting should be called a dingbat or a dork. Lets be a little more courteous and respectful of other Scouters. If you earn a knot, then wear it. So you wear the nine that are important to you and that is great! However, there are other Scouters who may believe that all of their knots are important to them. What other people wear on their uniform is really no concern of yours or mine. Key word here is “Volunteers”. Don’t take the fun out of someone else’s experience in Scouting.

  3. I’m now an ASM, but I spent five years as a Cub Scout den leader — starting with Tigers and continuing through Webelos II. I’d love to wear a knot commemorating my years with the pack. Can I just go to the scout store and get one or does it have to be awarded?

    • Roon,

      The knots have to be awarded to you. If you have been awarded and need an extra or a replacement, then you can go to the scout scout and purchase one.

      • David’s making my point for me: the various awards are either EARNED or PRESENTED to you…which makes it all important that the ENTIRE AWARD (the medal, medallion, plaque or pin; the certificate; and the cloth representation (the “knot emblem”)

        When we just “present the knot” or tell someone “go buy the knot”, we’re not doing that person justice and not recognizing his or her accomphishments in the right way. We don’t do this to Eagle Scouts. We don’t do this to receipients of the Silver Beaver, Antelope, Buffalo or World. So why are we constantly doing this to those who have earned a training award or Key; or one of the various other national or local Council awards associated with a cloth emblem?

    • Roon…that’s what a year (tenure) pin is for. You can hop down to your Scout Shop(tm) or Council Trading Post and purchase one of those…and ask for a blue plastic backing. You don’t need a “knot” to represent your years of service as a Cub Scouting volunteer.

  4. I wasn’t trained in anything, until I learned I could just buy the knots. Now I’m trained in everything! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. :) (old comedian’s joke)

    I, too, kind of roll my eyes at more than 9 knots on a uniform. “Hey, look at me!” I’m glad someone spent the time to be properly trained or give their time to Scouting, but it begins to look a little silly. Pick your 9 nine favs.

  5. Can knots also be worn on the Venturing uniform? I know an Eagle scout wears his due to the fact he is over 18 and still in crew. Are we able to have the religious knot? Also am I able to wear my earned Cub Scout leader knots on my Advisor uniform?
    Love Scouting!!!!

    • Yes the knots can be worn on the Venturing shirt. The religious knot(s) and Cub Scout knots may be worn.

      • Heroism awards, the Hornaday medal, and several other awards can also be worn on the Venturing field uniform; therefore the cloth representations (the square knot emblem) for those awards can also be worn on the Venturing field uniform.

  6. I have been involved in Scouting for nearly 40 years, I have 6 knots, wear 5 as one of them is the life member NESA knot. I have seen leaders that have 5 rows, a bit over kill. I think it is important for adults to receive recognition.I have made other adults aware of knots to earn. It made me work a little harder, but remember, it’s primarily a youth organization.

    • Hi Steve!! I have been a member of the BSA since 1967. I was fortunate to be in the right places at the right time since then, earning a youth religious emblem, the William T. Hornaday Award, a heroism medal, and all three youth advancement awards (Arrow of Light, Eagle, Exploring Achievement) and the Scouters’ Training Award before I turned 22. Since then, I have received several training awards and Keys, the District Award of Merit, the Silver Beaver, and several other awards. As one of those people who wear in excess of five rows, I naturally don’t feel it’s “overkill” but rather a reflection of my service and various areas of Scouting recognizing me for my service and leadership.

      At the same time, I am part of the effort which is actually working to REDUCE the number of awards associated with a “square knot emblem” because many of you are ‘out there to get a knot’ instead of the award it actually represents; and others of you are out there saying “this is way too much…we’re producing show-offs”, neither which is exactly the truth…

      In my early Scoutmaster days, there existed 27 awards with an associated “knot emblem”. The average Scouter would earn/receive 8 of those awards over the span of his life. In 2009, when we started the process of “pairing down” the various awards and their “square knot insignia”, we had 48 such national/regional/local Council awards — that year we removed two awards. In 2011, we made the training award/key consolidation between all programs. This was painful (and still is, according to some of the postings here) but was necessary. This year (2014) we are consolidating the various “ethnic service awards” and will be developing ONE square knot representing all of those awards — you will receive the Young or Asian American Youth Service award…but there will be ONE square knot emblem representing all of the awards in that category. A small program device will be presented to represent an additional award in that category. We will be doing the same with some other awards so that we get things down back to 30 or so, with the average Scouter wearing ten to 12 representations of those awards.

      As “old dudes” and dudettes like me die or retire from Scouting, you will see less and less of some of us wearing 12, 15 or 17 (or more) of the awards they were recognized with because many of those awards will be retired; and the like the Silver Award of old, the number of people entitled to wearing cloth representations will drop.

      I get this constant question: “If I earned the old Cubmaster, Den Leader and Cub Scouter Awards can I still wear them?” Yes, any OFFICIAL award associated with a square knot (no, the “Lifeguard BSA” or “Philmont Bull” knots are NOT official!) can still be worn on *any field uniform* until the emblem is no longer serviceable. Same goes for the old Scoutmaster Award of Merit and the Heroism Medal knot emblems as well.

      Steve, I may only be 55 years old, but I can clearly recall seeing one of my mentors John Acree Jr, show up at a Council recognition dinner wearing his shirt with six rows of square knot insignia…including the Silver Buffalo. It was the first time in my young life that I actually saw a complete “Scouting resume” in my face. It showed me that here’s a man who not only participated in Scouting as a young man and have gotten out a LOT from it; but he has also given back to Scouting and was recognized in so many areas with recognition. And he was the guy who told me, “if you were recognized by your peers with something, the polite and correct thing for you to do is to wear it humbly, proudly and correctly. They didn’t give it to you for your good looks, you know…” *smiling*

      • The problem is that there are many that do not wear the knots humbly. Proudly yes… humbly no. In my experience those wearing more than 9 have lost their way in scouting and forgotten why they became leaders. Many act like they know everything there is to know about scouting and like they have nothing to learn… from anyone… and they will let you know how much they know. The knots become “look at me what an impressive scout I am”. Part of a sick adult power trip in an organization that isn’t about them at all… it’s about the scouts. I say eliminate them completely and lets get back to “humbly” serving.

        • True dat, T. It has never been the “number” or “type” — I’ve run into lots of Scouters who forgot about their role in the program and many of them were not wearing a single “knot emblem”! It’s the attitude of the person, not the number of “do dahs” they have on their uniform.

          At the same time, there’s been plenty of times I’ve shown up for various Scouting events — mostly training events, where I’m teaching — and I am wearing the “Scouter Red” shirts I have. These are the shirts — and you may have one of them in a closet somewhere — with little more than a Council Shoulder Patch (CSP), a unit number, maybe a position emblem, and a World Crest and US Flag emblem both probably pre-sewn.

          People look at you and say “oh, new to Scouting eh. Well…stick around with ME and I’ll tell you about all of the people to avoid and tell you the REAL DEAL about Scouting here.” Or I’ll show up at a unit meeting and people spend more time asking me about my capabilities to teach whatever… “you don’t look like you’ve been in Scouts long…what do YOU know about Commissioner services?”

          (I’m grinning from ear to ear and some of you are nodding your heads up and down in agreement. I see you…*hehehehee*)

          Like the point I make when we go to a doctor’s or school administrator’s office: we look for “signs” that this person really DOES know his or her stuff. When we don’t see those “signs”, we find someone who DOES meet our “needs” or we feel are “competent enough”.

          Not only that, but we look for “specific signs” if we know what to look for.
          For instance, that green and white square knot which says “this person’s been a primary leader for at least three years…”; or that red/white/blue knot emblem which says “hey…he’s an Eagle Scout!”

          Those small pieces of cloth may say “Look at ME…I’m SOMEBODY!” to YOU; but to a new parent or someone new to Scouting — or just not very experienced — they say “I’m a resource. Ask me. I’m competent enough to work with your child or you or the both. And I may not know *everything* (who really does?) but I know how to “use my resources” to get the right answers to your questions.”

  7. ..that’s not what we call a square knot , that’s a reef knot. A square knot or friendship knot as known here is completely different…?

  8. Regardless of which ones are earned & when & where, try wearing those which you find important on your Field Uniform shirt and then move to another Council. Someone within the new Council will question you on your shirt immediately,
    “you did not earn that here, can’t wear that one or these or all”

    I have taken moderation to the extreme and wear none. That usually invites a conversation which leaves others confused….

    Also, sew the knots backward, e.g. not C =’s overhand but C=’s underhand and watch the “uniform police go ballistic!!” It’s been a long Winter, need to get outside for fresh air…

  9. Mike Clark wrote in part: “Regardless of which ones are earned & when & where, try wearing those which you find important on your Field Uniform shirt and then move to another Council. Someone within the new Council will question you on your shirt immediately, “you did not earn that here, can’t wear that one or these or all”.

    And I would simply ask “and what program are YOU a part of? I belong to the (pointing at the strip) BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA and these are Boy Scouts of America awards. They are staying on my shirt because I am a member of the Boy Scouts of America. Questions?”

    I had a guy to tell me in my face this “fact” that “since I didn’t earn it in HIS Council, I couldn’t wear it.” I told him “but I’m not registered in YOUR COUNCIL yet; and it’s very possible for me to be NOT registered in YOUR COUNCIL. The BSA will take my money regardless and I can register with Direct Service. Ever see their shoulder patch?”

    I know…confrontation isn’t my better suit either…

  10. You have one issue. The Silver Beaver, if worn according to your chart with the loop on top to the right then that is contrary to you saying “not white” to the right.

    • Greg,
      According to the inset “How to wear a Knot”, it states “Knots are worn with the distinguishing color (not white) toward the wearer’s right.” The graphics show how the knots would appear as viewed on the uniform. Therefore the distinguishing color on the Silver Beaver knot (blue), is toward the wearer’s right (and the viewer’s left) and the white is toward the wearer’s left (which is the viewer’s right). I hope this clears up the confusion.

  11. What’s the difference between the Scouter’s Key Award and Unit Leader’s Award of Merit? Looks like Cubmasters and Scoutmasters can earn both but I’m not seeing the big difference between the two.

    Also, Committee Members and Trainers now only have 1 award to work toward: Cub Scout Leader’s Training Award? Is this correct?

    • Hey Mike!! You wrote and asked:

      “What’s the difference between the Scouter’s Key Award and Unit Leader’s Award of Merit? Looks like Cubmasters and Scoutmasters can earn both but I’m not seeing the big difference between the two.”

      The Unit Leaders’ Award of Merit can only be earned by the “key leader” — the Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Coach, Advisor or Skipper. The actual award consists of a certificate and a *special version* of their badge of office with a star indicating their role as a “star leader”. There is also a square knot insignia piece which may be worn. Program devices are attached indicating in which program the holder has earned the Unit Leaders’ Award of Merit.

      The Unit Leaders’ Award of Merit is intended to recognize that unit leader at the “half-way point” in his or her tenure toward the Scouters’ Key Award as a primary leader. The requirements are designed to encourage further leadership in that role as well as to get the key Scouter past the first two years of his or her role.

      The Scouters’ Key is designed as a five year award, but many Scouters can earn it in a little over three years. So the sequence, Mike, is as follows (I’m going to use a Cubmaster):

      - training as a Cubmaster (to which he or she wears the “Trained” strip
      - training, experience, and tenure toward the Scouters’ Training Award (any Scouter can earn the Training Award, to include key leaders)
      - training, experience, tenure and unit leadership concurrence to earn the Unit Leader Award of Merit
      - training, experience, tenure and application to earn the Scouters’ Key Award as a Cubmaster (the “Cubmasters’ Key Award”).

      “Also, Committee Members and Trainers now only have 1 award to work toward: Cub Scout Leader’s Training Award? Is this correct?”

      Committee members at the Pack level along with Pack Trainers currently have the Scouters’ Training Award as a Cub Scouter.

      District and Council Committee members may earn the Scouters’ Training Award and the Scouters’ Key Award as a Committeemember.

      The Cub Scout Training task force is still working alongside other programs training folk to develop a new Unit Trainer Award (which WILL NOT have a “square knot” emblem associated with it. Last word I saw was a five-sided patch to be worn ON THE LEFT POCKET (something neat and unique!!) with “segments” denoting the level of training (basic, intermediate, advanced, regional, master) surrounding this emblem. It sounded cool and if it is designed well, something that trainers will WANT to earn and wear)

      When this is developed, I’m sure that this will mean the end for the Philmont Master Trainer square knot emblem.

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