The United States Navy has been around for for over 225 years and the British Navy many years before that. Over the centuries, many customs and courtesies developed and were passed on from sailor to sailor. Some have been made into law, some are just tradition.
Saluting the Ensign (Flag of the United States of America)
Each person in the naval service, when coming on board a ship of the Navy, shall salute the national ensign. He or she shall stop on reaching the upper platform of the accommodation ladder, or the shipboard end of the brow, face the national ensign (normally aft), and render the salute. He or she then enter the Quarterdeck, salutes the OOD, and asks permission to come aboard. When leaving the ship, he or she salutes the OOD, asks permission to leave the ship, exits the Quarterdeck, and stops and salutes the engine. The officer of the deck will return your salute to him or her and your salute to the ensign. The order is reversed when leaving the ship.
When passed by or passing the national ensign being carried, uncased, in a military formation, all persons in the naval service shall salute. Persons in vehicles or boats shall also salute.
Traditionally, members of the nation’s veterans service organizations have rendered the hand-salute during the national anthem and at events involving the national flag only while wearing their organization’s official head-gear. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 contained an amendment to allow un-uniformed service members, military retirees, and veterans to render a hand salute during the hoisting, lowering, or passing of the U.S. flag.
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