Flag protocol

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The Brazilian flag being changed in a monthly ceremony that takes place in the Praça dos Três Poderes, Brasília.

Flag protocol defines the proper placement, handling and use of flags. Some countries have added certain protocols into their law system while others prefer to have "guidelines" without civil or criminal consequences attached.

General guidelines[edit]

General guidelines are accepted practically universally.

On a mast or pole[edit]

The flag of honor, which is the nation's flag in most cases, is flown on the center mast if possible. It is also correct to fly the flag on its own right. To an observer it would be on the far left. If more than three flags are used, the proper position is as far left from the point of view of an observer. An additional flag may be placed on the right side, but is not necessary.

When two poles are crossed, the position of honor is the flag that ends on the left side from the point of view of an observer (the pole will therefore end on the right).

In a semicircle, the position of honor is the center. If a full circle is used outside an entrance to an arena or stadium, the position of honor is directly over the entrance. If used to line the walls of the arena, the flag should be placed directly opposite the entrance.


When flown horizontally, as from a flag pole, the flag should be oriented so that the canton is closest to the top of the pole. If hung against a wall, the canton should be placed in the upper-left corner from the point of view of the observer.

When hung vertically, flags should be rotated so the canton is again closest to the top of the pole. If the flag is displayed against a wall, the canton should again appear in the upper-left corner, which requires that the flag be both rotated and "flipped" from its horizontal orientation.

Other places[edit]

On a vehicle the flag should be put on a window or affixed securely to the front of the chassis, on the nearside of the vehicle, i.e. the one opposite the driver. (In other words, in countries that drive on the right hand side of the road, the flag is on the right of the vehicle.) On a vehicle where a visiting Head of State or Government is sharing a car with the host Head of State or Government, the host's flag takes the nearside position, the guest's flag is on the offside.

When placed with a podium or at a place of worship the flag should hang directly behind or on a pole to the right of the speaker, from the point of view of the flag.

When carried in single file the flag of honor leads.

Multiple flags[edit]

When flags of many nations are flown the flag of the hosting country should be placed on the right with the rest following in alphabetical order in the language of the host country.

On a helicopter[edit]

Sometimes in a ceremonial flypast, a flag is flown from a weighted rope dangling from beneath a helicopter.

By country[edit]


Each title holder has their own flag. The Sultan Flag must be flown only in Istana Nurul Iman. The same goes for the Crown Prince (Deputy Sultan)'s flag, but other non-royal title holders fly the national flag of Brunei. Bruneians consider it a taboo for the flag touch the ground.


When a French vessel meets another French ship, it is to lower and raise its ensign as a greeting. A merchant ship meeting a ship of the French Navy will greet three times.


The flag of India has a very distinctive protocol[1] and is governed by the Flag Code of India, 2002 the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950; and the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.[2]

Insults to the national flag, are punishable by law with imprisonment up to three years, or a fine, or both.[3]

Official regulation states that the flag must never touch the ground or water, or be used as a drapery in any form.[4]

Disposal of damaged flags is also covered by the flag code. Damaged or soiled flags may not be cast aside or disrespectfully destroyed; they have to be destroyed as a whole in private, preferably by burning or by any other method consistent with the dignity of the flag.[5]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Because the flag of Saudi Arabia bears the Shahada, it is never flown at half-mast.

United Kingdom[edit]

The Department for Communities and Local Government in November 2012 released the Plain English guide to flying flags for England, a "summary of the new, more liberalised, controls over flag flying that were introduced on 12 October 2012".[6] In England, the statute governing the flying of flags are The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2007[7] and 2012.[8]

United States[edit]

When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.

The flag should be to the speaker's right (also described as the flag's own right or audience's left), that is to the left of the podium or pulpit as the speaker is facing the audience. Old guidelines had a distinction whether the flag was at the level of the speaker on a stage or the level of the audience. That distinction has been eliminated and the rule simplified.[9]

When the flag is displayed at half-staff, it is customary to raise it briskly to the top the flag pole, then lower it slowly to the half-way mark. This is also done when lowering the flag. The flag is only displayed at half-staff by presidential decree or act of Congress – the exceptions are Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, when the flag can be displayed at half-staff until sundown – and on Memorial Day, the flag is flown at half-staff until noon, and then raised to full staff for the remainder of the day.

When displaying the US flag, it is customary for it to be above a state's flag when flown on the same pole. When flown separately, a state's flag may be at the same height as the US flag, with the US flag to the left of the state flag, from the perspective of the viewer.[10][11] When flown with several state flags, the US flag should be at the same height and to the flag's own right (viewer's left), or at the center of and higher than a grouping of state flags.[12] The idea that only the Texas and Hawaii flags, which are both former national flags (Texas being the Republic of Texas, and Hawaii being the Kingdom of Hawaii), may be flown at an equal height to the US flag is a legend.[citation needed] In fact, any other flag may be flown at an equal height to the US flag provided the US flag is at the leftmost staff from the perspective of the viewer.

The flag of the United States is used to drape the coffins of deceased veterans of the armed forces. When it is so used, the Union (white stars on blue background) is placed above the deceased's left shoulder.

According to United States Code found in Title 4, Chapter 1 pertaining to patriotic customs and observances:

§8(k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed, preferably by burning.

These laws were supplemented by Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations.[13]

Alternatives to burning are being investigated. Due to the nature of modern materials used in flags, namely nylon, toxic smoke is released when burned.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Flag Code of India". Archived from the original on February 24, 2008. Retrieved October 11, 2006. 
  2. ^ "Flag code of India, 2002". Fact Sheet. Press Information Bureau, Government of India. 4 April 2002. Retrieved 11 October 2006. 
  3. ^ "The Prevention Of Insults To National Honour Act, 1971" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Retrieved 11 December 2009. 
  4. ^ "Flag code of India, 2002". Fact Sheet. Press Information Bureau, Government of India. 4 April 2002. Retrieved 11 October 2006. 
  5. ^ "Flag Code of India". Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 25 January 2006. Archived from the original on 10 January 2006. Retrieved 11 October 2006. 
  6. ^ gov.uk: "Plain English guide to flying flags" Nov 2012
  7. ^ http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2007/783/contents/made
  8. ^ http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/2372/contents/made
  9. ^ "Flag Rules and Regulations". Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  10. ^ "USFlag.org: A website dedicated to the Flag of the United States of America - Flag Etiquette". Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  11. ^ "Flag Rules and Regulations". Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  12. ^ "Flag Rules and Regulations". Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  13. ^ "Federal Citizen Information Center: Our Flag". Retrieved 12 November 2011. 

External links[edit]