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Flying the Flag at Half-Staff


The term "half-staff" refers to the position of a flag when it is halfway between the top and bottom of the staff. It is often synonymous with "half-mast", although it is argued that this term should only be used if the flag is displayed on a ship or nautical flagpole. The measurement does not have to be exact, but it should be at least the width of your flag. This is to imply that something is missing above the flag. Many scholars refer to this space as the "invisible flag of death," (Martuccio).


Flying a flag at half-staff or half-mast is a sign for grief and mourning. It is flown following the death of certain government officials, in times of national distress, on various holidays, and at any other time it is instructed by the president or government. There are specific instructions in the Flag Code for lowering the flag and the time frame it should be flown. This information is available in the Flag Code section below.


The practice of half-staffing or half-masting a flag has been taking place for some time. No one knows when and why this tradition began, but the earliest recorded incident was in 1612. It took place after the commander of the ship Heart’s Ease was killed by a native Inuit while searching for the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. His crew flew their flag at half-mast in mourning. When the ship reconvened with its fleet, the gesture was immediately recognized by crew members, insinuating that half-masting was already common practice at that time.


  • To fly your flag half-staff, first hoist it to the peak, then lower it to the half-staff position.
  • On Memorial Day fly your flag at half-staff until noon, then raise it back to the top.
  • Fly your flag at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless it is also Armed Forces Day.
  • The President can order that the flag be flown half-staff at any time and for any duration of time.

  • *It is also appropriate to fly your flag at half-staff on:
    • Patriot Day (September 11)
    • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7)



  • Following the death of the President or a former President, the flag should be flown at half-staff for 30 days.
  • Following the death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice, a retired Chief Justice of the United States or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the flag should be flown at half-staff for 10 days.
  • Following the death of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory or possession, the flag should be flown at half-staff from the day of death until interment.
  • Following the death of a Member of Congress, the flag should be flown at half-staff the day of death and the following day.



U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7.

Half-staff or half-mast? by David Martuccio  Flagwire 2006.

The Care and Display of the American Flag by the Editors of 2004.

When to Fly the Flag | Flag Fabrics & Sizes | Displaying the Flag with other Flags | Flying the Flag at Half-Staff | Caring for your Flag | Repair & Disposal of Flags | Folding the American Flag | The Flag and Patriotic Decorations | Carrying the Flag | The Pledge of Allegiance | The Star-Spangled Banner | American Flag History

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