What does an Upside Down American Flag Mean?

Image of an American flag upside down.

Have you ever seen an upside down American flag? We certainly hope not, but it is possible that you have. If you have spotted this at some point in your life, did you understand the symbolism?  In general, members of the United States Military would be most likely to recognize this signal. Nonetheless, allow us to explain with a little help from the United States Flag Code.

8. Respect for Flag

  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

Quick interpretation: “Dire distress and extreme danger to life or property” should not be taken lightly here. These instances do not include moments of personal dissatisfaction or times of protest. While it is legal to express yourself in whatever way you so chose, it is illegal to fly an American flag upside down unless you are in a life or death situation. People have faced legal charges for flying an American flag upside down. Stores have also been forced to remove upside down American flags on clothing.

If you have any additional questions or concerns on how to fly your American flag, please refer to our flag etiquette page.

Credit: US Flag Code

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6 Replies to “What does an Upside Down American Flag Mean?

  1. Now that is something that I didn’t have an idea about and I don’t wish to ever see this happening. I know of the military flag facing the other side and also heard that Aerospace guys do the same though I am not sure. Thanks for sharing the info, really nice to know my flag better.

  2. I learned flag etiquette as a Boy Scout. We were told of an instance where a person was secretly being held hostage in his own home. He convinced his captors that his neighbors would be alarmed if he did not raise his flag, as he did every day, so he was briefly allowed outside to raise his flag. He attached it upside-down, raised it, and then went back in the house, confident that his distress signal would be seen. The police arrived within minutes.

  3. I have been studying the union jack….
    Which is the correct way to fly it.
    It almost looks the same upside down as right side up.
    But it is different.

    1. We can find no information relative to your question about the Union Jack.

      Flying the American flag upside down is an officially recognized signal of distress. § 8(a)The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

      1. Pick a quadrant of the Union Jack; say the top left one
        Note that the thick white bar is above the red bar, if the flag is right side up.
        There are other patterns too. But that’s a start.

  4. The flag is now legally allowed to be used as a symbol under FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Where in the past it was illegal to wear it as clothing, burn it or stomp on it, that is no longer the case per the federal government. Any “laws” you think you know are false and are merely ETIQUETTE. One does NOT legally need to provide illumination for a flag being flown at night either per my local police department. The Supreme Court declared on June 11, 1990, that laws against desecrating the flag are unconstitutional

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