Half-staff or half-mast describes a flag flying approximately halfway up a flagpole or ship's mast (though anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of the way up is acceptable, but see below). This is done in many countries as a symbol of respect, mourning, or distress.

The tradition of flying the flag at half-mast began centuries ago to allow the invisible flag of death to fly on top of the mast, thus signifying death's presence, power, and prominence. [Franklyn, Julian, "Shield and Crest: An Account of the Art and Science of Heraldry" (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1961), 176] In some countries, for example the UK, and especially in military contexts, a "half-staff" flag is still flown exactly one flag's width down from its normal position, and no lower, in order to allow for this flag of death. This was the original flag etiquette. However, with larger flags on shorter hoists on many public buildings, the practice of actual half-staff has become common, especially outside the UK, where it is now standard to fly the flag at halfway up the mast regardless of the size of the flag or hoist. (For modern UK practice see below.)

When hoisting a flag that is to be displayed at half-staff, it should be hoisted to full staff for an instant, then lowered to half-staff. Likewise when it is lowered at the end of the day, it is to be hoisted to full staff for an instant, and then lowered.

The term "half-mast" is commonly used colloquially to refer to half-staff, although military tradition indicates that "half-mast" is generally reserved to usage aboard a ship, where flags are typically flown from masts. [ [http://www.bartleby.com/68/88/2888.html Bartleby: Half-staff] ] [ [http://www.usa-flag-site.org/faq/half-staff.shtml] Does a Flag Fly at Half-staff or Half-mast?] Not all English-speaking nations observe this distinction. [ [http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/xf-half.html Flags at half mast] ]



The Flag of Australia is flown half-mast in Australia:
*On the death of the Sovereign – from the time of announcement of the death up to and including the funeral. On the day the accession of the new Sovereign is proclaimed, it is customary to raise the flag to the top of the staff from 11 a.m..
* On the death of a member of a royal family.
*On the death of the Governor-General or a former Governor-General.
*On the death of a distinguished Australian citizen. Flags in any locality may be flown at half-mast on the death of a notable local citizen or on the day, or part of the day, of their funeral. Recent examples include the death of naturalist Steve Irwin and actor Heath Ledger.
*On the death of the head of state of another country with which Australia has diplomatic relations – the flag would be flown on the day of the funeral.
*On ANZAC day the flag is flown half-mast until noon.
*On Remembrance Day flags are flown at peak till 10:30 am, at half-mast from 10:30am to 11:03am, then at peak the remainder of the day


In Canada, the decision to fly the flag at half-staff on federal buildings rests with the Department of Canadian Heritage. Federally, the national flag of Canada is flown at half-staff to mark the following occasions:

Certain events are also marked by flying the national flag at half-mast on the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill. These include:

On occasion discretion can dictate the flying of the national flag at half-mast, not only on the Peace Tower, but on all federal facilities. Some examples include September 11, 2001, September 11, 2002, the state funeral of Ronald Reagan, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Mayerthorpe Incident, the death of Pope John Paul II, the 2005 London bombings, the death of Ernest Smith, and the state funerals of former U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.cite web|accessdate=2008-03-31|url=http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/sc-cs/occasion_e.cfm|title=Rules for Half-masting the National Flag of Canada |publisher=Department of Canadian Heritage ]

There are, however, exceptions to the rules of half-masting in Canada: if Victoria Day or Canada Day fall during a period of half-masting, the flags are to be returned to full-mast for the duration of the day. The national flag on the Peace Tower is also hoisted to full mast if a foreign head of state or head of government is visiting the parliament. These exemptions, though, do not apply to the period of mourning for the death of a Canadian monarch. The Royal Standard of Canada also never flies at half-mast, as it is considered representative of the sovereign, who ascends to the throne automatically upon the death of his or her predecessor. Each province can make its own determination of when to fly the flag at half-mast when provincial leaders or honoured citizens pass away.

To raise a flag in this position, the flag must be flown to the top of the pole first, then brought down halfway before the flag is secured for flying. When such mourning occurs, all flags should be flown at that position or not be flown at all, with the exception of flags permanently attached to poles. [cite web|accessdate=2008-03-31|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9405E4D71039E733A25750C2A9679C946097D6CF|title=Flags at Half Mast Everywhere and Amusement Places Closed. |publisher=The New York Times|date=1901-01-23 ]

A controversy surfaced in April, 2006, when the newly appointed Conservative government discontinued the practice, initiated by the previous Liberal government following the Tarnak Farm incident,cite web|accessdate=2008-03-31|url=http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/yourspace/flag_halfmast.html|title=Conservatives decide not to lower the Canadian flag to fly the flag at half-mast every time a Canadian soldier is killed |publisher=CBC|date=2006-04-01 ] of flying the flag at half-mast on all government buildings whenever a Canadian soldier was killed in action in Afghanistan. [cite web|accessdate=2008-03-25|url=http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2006/04/24/flag060424.html|title=Peace Tower flag will not be lowered for military deaths |publisher=CBC|date=2006-04-24 ] The issue divided veterans' groups and military families, some of whom supported the return to the original tradition of using Remembrance Day to honour all soldiers killed in action, while others felt it was an appropriate way to honour the fallen and to remind the population of the costs of war. In spite of the federal government's policy, local authorities have often decided to fly the flag at half-mast to honour fallen soldiers who were from their jurisdiction, including Toronto and Saskatchewan. [cite web|accessdate=2008-03-25|url=http://www.cbc.ca/canada/saskatchewan/story/2006/08/08/flags-sask.html|title=Sask. flags at half-mast for fallen soldier |publisher=CBC|date=2006-08-09 ]

On April 2, 2008, the House of Commons voted in favour of a motion calling on the government to reinstate the former policy regarding the half-masting of the flag on federal buildings. The motion, however, was not binding and the Cabinet refused to recommend any revision in policy to the Governor General. At the same time, a federal advisory committee tabled its report on the protocol of flying the national flag at half-mast, recommending that the Peace Tower flag remain at full height on days such as the Police Officers National Memorial Day and the National Day or Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, stating that the flag should only be half-masted on Remembrance Day. At last report, the committee's findings had been forwarded to the House of Commons all-party heritage committee for further study. [cite web|accessdate=2008-04-13|url=http://www.canada.com/topics/news/story.html?id=c5b3fc64-8830-4269-92e6-e23c5473400d&k=66747|title=Conservatives lose flag vote |publisher=CanWest Global Communications|date=2008-04-02|author=Greenaway, Norma ]

[http://www.pwgsc.gc.ca/realproperty/text/pubs_ceremonial/page7-e.html Public Works and Government Services Canada: Ceremonial Procedures]
[http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/etiquette/2_e.cfm Department of Canadian Heritage: Rules for Flying the Flag]
[http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/sc-cs/occasion_e.cfm Department of Canadian Heritage: Rules for Half-masting the National Flag of Canada]


The flag of the People's Republic of China is flown at half-staff, according to the National Flag Law:
* on the death of the President, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Premier, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chairman of the People's Political Consultative Conference, and those who have made "major contributions to the People's Republic of China, or to world peace or advancement of the mankind".
** Example: The flag was flown at half-staff after the deaths of Mao Tse-tung (1976) and Deng Xiaoping (1997)
* when major disasters happen
** Example: The flag was flown at half-staff from May 19 to May 21, 2008, the three national mourning days for the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.


The German flag, the flags of its federal states, etc. are flown at half-staff on:
*January 27, Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism
*National Day of Mourning (second to last Sunday in November)


The flag of India is flown at half-staff for the death of the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister all over India. For the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of The Supreme Court of India, it is flown in Delhi and for a Union Cabinet Minister it is flown in Delhi and the state capitals. For Minister of State, it is flown only in Delhi. For a Governor, Lt. Governor and Chief Minister of a state or union territory it is flown in the concerned state.

If the intimation of the death of any dignitary is received in the afternoon, the flag shall be flown at half-staff on the following day also at the place or places indicated above, provided the funeral has not taken place before sun-rise on that day. On the day of the funeral of a dignitary mentioned above, the flag shall be flown at half-staff at the place of the funeral.

In the event of a half-staff day coinciding with the Republic Day, Independence Day, Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, National Week (6th to 13th April), any other particular day of national rejoicing as may be specified by the Government of India or in the case of a state, on the anniversary of formation of that state, flags are not permitted to be flown at half-staff except over the building where the body of the deceased is lying until it has been removed and that flag shall be raised to the full-staff position after the body has been removed.

Observances of State mourning on the death of foreign dignitaries are governed by special instructions issued from the Ministry of Home Affairs (Home Ministry) in individual cases. However, in the event of death of either the Head of the State or Head of the Government of a foreign country, the Indian Mission accredited to that country may fly the national flag on the above mentioned days.


The flag of Ireland is frequently flown at half-mast on the death of a national or international figure (ie. former and current Presidents or Taoisigh) on all prominent government buildings equipped with a flag pole. The death of a prominent local figure can also be marked locally by the flag being flown at half-mast.

When the national flag is flown at half-mast, no other flag should be half-masted.


The Flag of Israel is flown at half-staff in Israel:
*On Yom HaShoah, or the Holocaust Remembrance Day.
*On Yom Hazikaron, or Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day.
*On other national days of mourning.


The flag of the Netherlands is nationally flown at half-staff on remembrance day of the dead (May 4th) and at the death of a member of the royal family.


In addition to the tradition of half-staff, the national flag topped by black cloth may be flown to designate mourning. See the flag of Japan for more.

New Zealand

For both government and public buildings, the flag of New Zealand is flown at half-mast for the following people:cite url|url=http://www.mch.govt.nz/nzflag/flying.html|title=Flying the New Zealand flag]
*Monarch of New Zealand from the day of the announcement of their death up to and including the day of the funeral. But it is flown at full-mast on Proclamation Day, the day when the new sovereign is announced.
*Current and former Governors-General and Prime Minsters of New Zealand on the day of the announcement of their death and the day of their funerals.
*Other members of the British Royal Family on the day of their funeral subject to a special command from the Queen or Governor-General.
*Commonwealth of Nations Governors-General, Commonwealth Prime Ministers in office, Foreign and Commonwealth Heads of State on the day of the funeral.In addition, it can also be half-masted at the request of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Examples of this are for the deaths of Sir Edmund Hillary [cite news|url=http://www.matangitonga.to/article/hillary_120108_1057_pf.shtml|title=Sir Edmund Hillary dies|date=12 January 2008|accessdate=2008-01-16] and Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the Maori Queen [cite url|url=http://www.mch.govt.nz/half-mast.html|title="Half-masting of New Zealand flag"|accessdate=2008-01-16]

According to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the flag should be at least its own height from the top of the flagpole, though the actual position will depend on the size of the flag and the length of the flagpole.


The flag of Pakistan is flown half mast on following days.
*On April 21,Anniversary of the death of the National Poet, Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1938)
*On September 11,Anniversary of the death of the Father of the Nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1948)
*On October 16, Anniversary of the death of the first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan (1952)Any other day notified by the Government. For example on the death of King Fahad bin Abdul Aziz flag was flown at half mast for seven days; and more recently, upon the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the flag has been ordered flown at half mast for three days.

audi Arabia

The flag of Saudi Arabia is never flown at half-staff because the flag shows the shahadah. Since it bears the "name of God (Allah)", the flag is never lowered to half-staff as a sign of mourning.


The Turkish flag is flown at half-staff all over the country every 10 November, between 09:05 and the sunset, in memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who died on November 10th, 1938 at five past nine in the morning. At other times, the government may issue an order for the national flag to be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the Turkish political life as a mark of respect to their memory (such as Turgut Özal). When such an order is issued, all government buildings, offices, public schools and military bases are to fly their flags at half-staff. In order to show the sympathy of Turkish people to some foreign leader, flags are also flown at half-staff by governmental order (such as after the deaths of Yasser Arafat or Pope John Paul II).

United Kingdom

The Royal Standard, the flag of the British monarch, is never flown at half-mast, because the monarch never dies: the throne passes immediately to the successor.

There was some controversy in the United Kingdom in 1997 following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales that no flag was flying at half-mast at Buckingham Palace. Until 1997, the only flag to fly from Buckingham Palace was the Royal Standard, the official flag of the reigning British sovereign, which would only fly when the sovereign was in residence at the Palace (or, exceptionally, after the death of the sovereign, the flag of the next senior member of the Royal Family would be raised, if the new sovereign were not present); otherwise, no flag would fly.

In response to public outcry that the palace was not flying a flag at half mast, Queen Elizabeth II ordered a break with protocol, replacing the Royal Standard with the Union Flag at half-mast as soon as The Queen left the Palace to attend the Princess' funeral at Westminster Abbey. The Royal Standard was again flown (at full hoist) on her return to the Palace. Since then, the Union Flag flies from the Palace when the Queen is not in residence, and has flown at half mast upon the deaths of members of the Royal Family, such as the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, and other times of national mourning such as following the terrorist bombings in London on 7 July 2005.

In the UK, the correct way to fly the flag at half mast is two-thirds between the top and bottom of the flagstaff, according to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which decides the flying, on command of the Sovereign. The flag may be flown on a government building at half mast on the following days:
*From the announcement of the death up to the funeral of the Sovereign, except on Proclamation Day when flags are hoisted to full staff, from 11am until sunset.
*The funerals of members of the royal family, upon command of the Sovereign.
*The funerals of foreign rulers, upon command of the Sovereign.
*The funerals of prime ministers and ex-prime ministers of the UK, upon command of the Sovereign.
*Other occasions, by special command of the Sovereign.

If a flag flying day coincides with a half-mast flag flying day (including the death of a royal), the flag is flown at full mast unless a specific command is received from the Sovereign.

If more than one flag is flown on a half mast day, they must be all be flown at half staff, or not at all. The flag of a foreign nation must never be flown at half mast on UK soil unless that country has declared mourning.

United States

In the United States, the President can issue an executive order for the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States government, and others, as a mark of respect to their memory. When such an order is issued, all government buildings, offices, public schools and military bases are to fly their flags at half-staff. Under federal law (UnitedStatesCode|4|7(f)), the flags of states, cities, localities, and pennants of societies, shall never be placed above the flag of the United States; thus, all other flags also fly at half-staff when the U.S. flag has been ordered to fly at half-staff.

Governors of the several U.S. states or territories are authorized by federal law to order all U.S. and state flags in their jurisdiction flown at half-staff as a mark of respect for a state official or resident who has died. Since a governor's executive order affects only his or her state, not the entire country, these orders are distinguished from presidential proclamations.

Under UnitedStatesCode|4|7(m) the flag of the United States is to be flown at half-staff in following circumstances: [UnitedStatesCode|4|7(m)]
*For thirty days after the death of a current or former president, as occurred after the death of President Reagan and the death of President Ford.
*For ten days after the death of a current vice president, chief justice, or speaker of the House of Representatives.
*From the day of death until interment 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.
*On the day of death and the following day for a member of Congress- i.e. a senator, a representative, a delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.
*On Memorial Day until noon.
*Upon presidential proclamation, which have recently included: the remembrance of the 9/11 attacks [cite press release |title=Honoring the Victims of the Incidents on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 |publisher=White House |date= September 12, 2001|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010912-1.html|format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] , the death of Pope John Paul II [cite press release |title=President Bush Orders Flags Flown at Half Staff in Honor of Pope John Paul II |publisher=White House |date= April 2, 2005|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/04/20050402-3.html|format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] , the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003 [cite press release |title=President Orders Flags Flown at Half-Staff in Honor of Columbia Disaster |publisher=White House |date= February 1, 2003|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030201-3.html|format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] , the victims of Hurricane Katrina [cite press release |title=Proclamation by the President: Honoring the Memory of the Victims of Hurricane Katrina |publisher=White House |date= September 4, 2005|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/09/20050904-2.html|format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] , the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami [cite press release |title=Honoring the Memory of the Victims of the Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunamis |publisher=White House |date= January 1, 2005|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050101-2.html |format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] , the deaths of Coretta Scott King [cite press release |title=Proclamation by the President: Death of Coretta Scott King |publisher=White House |date= February 6, 2006|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/02/20060206-4.html |format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] and Rosa Parks [cite press release |title=Proclamation by the President: Death of Rosa Parks |publisher=White House |date= October 30, 2005|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/10/20051030-1.html |format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] , and the Virginia Tech massacre [cite press release |title=Honoring the Victims of the Tragedy at Virginia Tech |publisher=White House |date= April 17, and the Northern Illinois University Valentine's Day Tragedy2007|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/04/20070417.html |format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] .

US federal law requires the flag be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. Yearly presidential proclamations also mandate that the flag be flown at half-staff on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7) [cite press release |title=National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, 2007 |publisher=White House |date= December 4, 2007|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/12/20071204-9.html|format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] ,and September 11 (Patriot Day) [cite press release |title=Patriot Day, 2007 |publisher=White House |date= September 4, 2007|url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/09/20070904-6.html|format=HTML |accessdate=2008-01-16] .

ee also

*Flag of Hong Kong
*Flag of India


External links

* [http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/4/7.html US Flag Code Concerning Flag Display]
* [http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/berne-halfmasting/index_e.cfm Canadian Heritage announcements of half-masting]
* [http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/sc-cs/occasion_e.cfm Canadian rules for half-masting]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • half-staff — half′ staff′ n. naut. half mast • Etymology: 1595–1605 …   From formal English to slang

  • half-staff — ☆ half staff [haf′staf′ ] n. HALF MAST …   English World dictionary

  • half-staff — noun Date: 1708 half mast …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • half-staff — /haf staf , hahf stahf /, n., v.t. half mast. [1595 1605] * * * …   Universalium

  • half-staff — noun half mast …   Wiktionary

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  • half-staff — noun a position some distance below the top of a mast to which a flag is lowered in mourning or to signal distress • Syn: ↑half mast • Hypernyms: ↑position, ↑place …   Useful english dictionary

  • To hang the flag at half-staff — Flag Flag, n. [Cf. LG. & G. flagge, Sw. flagg, Dan. flag, D. vlag. See {Flag} to hang loose.] 1. That which flags or hangs down loosely. [1913 Webster] 2. A cloth usually bearing a device or devices and used to indicate nationality, party, etc.,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • To hang the flag half-staff — Flag Flag, n. [Cf. LG. & G. flagge, Sw. flagg, Dan. flag, D. vlag. See {Flag} to hang loose.] 1. That which flags or hangs down loosely. [1913 Webster] 2. A cloth usually bearing a device or devices and used to indicate nationality, party, etc.,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • staff — staff1 [ stæf ] noun *** 1. ) singular or uncount the people who work for a particular company, organization, or institution: It is a small hospital with a staff of just over a hundred. The staff is not happy about the new arrangement. join the… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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