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.
The law was subsequently enter into the U.S. Code:
- §9. Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag
- During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.
- Use this link to read the applicable section in the U.S. Code: http://184.108.40.206/view.xhtml?req=4+USC+Sec.+9&f=&fq=true&num=0&hl=true
- A later amendment that authorized hand-salutes during the national anthem by veterans and out-of-uniform military personnel was included in the Defense Authorization Act of 2009. The law was subsequently enter into the U.S. Code:
- §301. National anthem
- (a) Designation. The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
- (b) Conduct During Playing. During a rendition of the national anthem—
- (1) when the flag is displayed—
- (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
- (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and
- (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
- (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.
- (1) when the flag is displayed—
- Use this link to read the applicable section in the U.S. Code: http://220.127.116.11/view.xhtml?req=Section+301%28b%29%281%29+of+title+36&f=&fq=true&num=0&hl=true
Here is how I interpret section 301Unless otherwise stated, when the U.S. government speaks about being uniformed, it means its uniformed armed services. Therefore, when the U.S. Code refers being in uniform or not being in uniform, it only applies to members of the armed forces or veterans authorized to wear a uniform. It does not apply to persons authorized by state or local governments to wear uniforms or to persons authorized by private entities to wear uniforms. Thus, sections 301(b)(1)(A) and (B) only apply to members of the armed forces or veterans authorized to wear a uniform. Section 301(b)(1)(C) applies to everyone else, such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, etc., whether in or out of their uniforms. Section 301(b)(2) allies to everyone.
Law enforcement officers, firefighters, etc. in uniform who are also members of the armed forces or veterans should follow the procedures established by their respective departments. In the absence of such procedures, they should follow sections 301(b)(1)(A) and (B).
Dipping the Ensign
Merchant ships "salute" Navy ships by dipping their ensigns. When a merchant ship of any nation formally recognized by the U.S. salutes a ship of the U.S. Navy, it lowers its national colors to half-mast. The Navy ship, at its closest point of approach, lowers the ensign to half-mast for a few seconds, then closes it up, after which the merchant ship raises its own flag. If the salute is made when the ensign is not displayed, the Navy ship will hoist her colors, dip for the salute, close them up again, and then haul them down after a suitable interval. Naval vessels dip the ensign only to answer a salute; they never salute first.
In olden days it took as much as 20 minutes to load and fire a gun, so that a ship that fired her guns in salute did so as a friendly gesture, making herself powerless for the duration of the salute. The gun salutes prescribed by Navy Regulations are fired only by ships and stations designated by the Secretary of the Navy. Salutes are fired at intervals of 5 seconds, and always in odd numbers.
A national salute of 21 guns is fired:
- On Washington's Birthday
- On Memorial Day
- On Independence Day
- To honor the President of the United States
- To honor heads of foreign states.
Salutes for naval officers are:
- Admiral: 17 guns
- Vice Admiral: 15 guns
- Rear Admiral: 13 guns
- Commodore: 11 guns
Side boys are an even-numbered group of sailors, male or female, posted in two parallel rows at the quarterdeck when a visiting dignitary boards or leaves the ship. The Quarterdeck is a ceremonial location on a weather deck of the ship, usually at the location of the accommodation (boarding) ladder or brow. Historically, side boys were there to help (or even hoist) him aboard. Nowadays, they are a ceremonial honor guard and a part of the tradition known as Tending the Side. Commands are given to the side boys by the piping of a Boatswain's Mate.
Since 1843, United States Navy regulations have stipulated the number of side boys to be used in according to the protocol importance of the guests. They have also stipulated who is entitled to other honors, such as the tune played, number of ruffles and flourishes. and the number of shots fired as a salute.