Half-staff versus half-mast, did you know there is a difference between the two? Here is what makes the 2 terms different and how to use them properly.
On national holidays of recognition, such at Memorial Day and Patriot Day, flags fly at half-staff between the summit and bottom of a flagpole. Or do they fly at half-mast? Many people use the two terms interchangeably when they see a flag flying below the very top of a flagpole. However, there is a distinguishable difference between the two terms.
Half-mast is the term used to flying a flag midway between the summit and bottom of the flagpole on a ship, with the ‘mast’ in ‘half-mast’ being derived from the ship’s mast. Half-mast is reserved primarily for ships when flags fly halfway during times of distress or mourning.
According to the U.S. Flag Code, half-staff is largely an American English term where it distinguishes the position and manner of display on a flagpole as half-staff, or midway between the summit and bottom. Flying a flag at half-staff is largely associated with land flagpoles, leaving the term ‘half-mast’ to ships. However, half-staff is mainly a United States term – places like Canada and the United Kingdom do not have ‘half-staff’ in their vocabulary and rely solely on using the term ‘half-mast’ when ordering flags to fly lowered.
Quick quiz after the short lesson:
Which of the following flags are flying at half-mast if you are in the United States? And which is flying half-staff?
*Answer: the picture in the middle with the soldier is a flag flying at half-mast, and the top picture of the White House depicts a flag flying half-staff.