Things You Should Know: How to fly a flag at half-staff

youshouldknowPart of doing your duty to country is knowing how to respect and honor the American flag.

And sometimes honoring the American flag means flying it at half-staff.

As leaders of Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA members, Sea Scouts and Venturers, it’s important for us to know the proper way to fly the American flag during times of mourning, such as Patriot Day, on which we remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Learn how to fly a flag at half-staff in the latest edition of Things You Should Know.

Step 1: Know when to fly the flag at half-staff

Half-Staff-3 is my go-to site for learning whether a flag should be flown at half-staff, why it’s being flown at half-staff and for how long it should be kept at that reverential height.

The call to lower the flag will come from the president or a state governor.

Also, there are several days where it’s always flown at half-staff out of respect for those we have lost:

  • Peace Officers Memorial Day, May 15 (sunrise to sunset)
  • Memorial Day, last Monday in May (sunrise to noon)
  • Patriot Day, Sept. 11 (sunrise to sunset)
  • Korean War Veterans Armistice Day (sunrise to sunset)
  • National Firefighters Memorial Day (sunrise to sunset)
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Dec. 7 (sunrise to sunset)

Step 2: Hoist the flag briskly to the top of the pole


The flag ceremony will begin as usual.

When it’s time to hoist the flag, it should be hoisted briskly to the peak for an instant.

Step 3: Lower the flag slowly to the half-staff position


Next, lower the flag slowly — and ceremoniously — to the half-staff position.

The half-staff position is half the distance from the top to the bottom of the staff.

Step 4: At the end of the day, raise it before lowering it


When it is time to lower the flag for the day at sunset, it should again be raised briskly to the top for a moment before being lowered slowly.

Half-staff or half-mast?


Is a flag flown at half-staff or half-mast? Both are true, depending on where the flag is flown.

If it’s flown on a ship or at naval stations ashore, it’s flown at half-mast. (Ships have masts, after all.)

Everywhere else ashore, it’s flown at half-staff.

About this series

Things You Should Know is an ongoing series about those essential life skills all young people should have in their arsenal.

Cool thing is, everything in the series is a skill a guy or girl could learn in Scouting. Maybe he or she picks it up while spending time outdoors with his or her troop, team or crew. Or maybe he or she learned it in a merit badge pamphlet or while reading the Scouts BSA Handbook, Fieldbook or Boys’ Life magazine. Either way, one thing’s clear: Scouting helps teach skills that help young people become better Prepared. For Life.

See all of the Things You Should Know here. And leave a comment if you think of a skill guys and girls should know (and learn in Scouting) that I should cover in a future edition.

Hat tip: That awesome Things You Should Know illustration is by Kevin Hurley.

Photos from iStock and from Flickr by Grant GolightlyDave Thomas, Terry Robinson

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.