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Flag protocols

21st Dec 2023
By sarah-jane grainger |
Advice | Flags |

Flag protocols refer to a commonly agreed set of guidelines and customs. These dictate the proper and respectful handling, display, and care of national flags or other significant flags. These protocols are often established by governments, military organisations, or cultural traditions. They are meant to honour the flag as a symbol of national pride, identity, and sovereignty. Here are some key flag protocols that are commonly followed:

Display and placement

The national flag is typically given a position of honour. When displayed with other flags, the national flag will be on the highest flagpole in the group. Should the flagpoles all be the same height, it is usually the farthest flag to the left when viewed from a position facing the poles. When displayed indoors, the national flag is placed on the left, and it is often displayed behind or above a speaker’s podium.

Triple mounted flags at the front of the L'Oscar hotel following protocols of the Union Flag in the senior position

No two national flags should ever be displayed on the same flagpole. Traditionally this symbolises that the nation displayed on the lower flag has been defeated in battle. If multiple nations’ flags are displayed together, the host nation’s flag will be displayed centrally, with the other countries’ flags displayed alphabetically.

Respectful Handling

The flag should not touch the ground or any other objects beneath it. It should be handled with respect and care at all times.

Raising and lowering the flag

The universal custom is that the national flag is typically raised at sunrise and lowered at sunset, unless illuminated during the night.

Half-staff or Half-mast

The flag may be flown at half-staff or half-mast as a sign of mourning or respect. This is typically done on national days of mourning or to honour the death of a prominent figure.

Flying flags at half mast

Retirement of old or damaged flags

Old or damaged flags are often retired in a dignified manner. This can be through burning in a ceremonial setting, or by tearing or cutting into strips so that it no longer resembles the original flag. Many organisations conduct flag retirement ceremonies.

Flag precedence

There may be occasion to fly two flags when only one flagpole is available. If both flags are British, this is acceptable. The Union Flag will always take the higher position, over British national flags.

British national flags take precedence over the United Nations flag, the Commonwealth flag and flags of British counties.

Important note

Flag protocols can vary between regions, countries and organisations. Individuals and organisations are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the specific guidelines and traditions associated with the flags they are handling. This will ensure proper respect and adherence to local customs.

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