Flag Break and Flag Down

A ceremony to start and end the day

By Scouter Liam Morland, 2000, revised April 6, 2014

The Flag Break ceremony is usually conducted at the opening of a Scouting meeting, camp, or other event as well as every morning at camp. Flag Down is done at the closing of these events and every evening at camp. Packs and Colonies have their own ceremonies and do not generally break the flag.

At camp, I suggest holding the flag break ceremony before breakfast. This is a good way to get everyone up and going. At a large event such as a camporee, the camporee flag break should take place before the start of the morning's activities.

It is common to lower the flag each evening and break it each morning at camp. Flag Break serves as a good way to start the day. Flag Down after dinner can be the gathering for the evening's activities. Another option is to lower the flag without a gathering. In this case, it is traditional to send a signal that flag down is about to happen, such as blowing a whistle. Those within view of the flag pause and face the flag until it is down.

(Lowering the flag every evening is not required. Current Canadian flag protocol allows the flag to fly at night even when not illuminated. This is a change from protocol in the past which required flags to be illuminated at night.)

A recitation of the Scout Promise and/or Law can happen after flag break or down or both. When these are recited, one must be at alert, making the Scout Sign, and facing forward (i.e. not towards the flag, as for during the flag break or down).

A colour party usually consists of one person for breaking and two for lowering, who will be referred to as Colour Party A and Colour Party B. Colour Party A is the leader of the Colour Party.

These ceremonies are normally lead by the Scoutmaster of the troop. They could also be lead by the Senior Patrol Leader or other troop member, or, at a jamboree, by a commissioner or other senior official.

Any time the troop is told to "Break off", they do a quarter turn to the right then leave the horseshoe.

Flag Break

Scoutmaster
Scoutmaster makes the signal for the horseshoe to form.

Colour Party, advance.

The Colour Party starts to come around the horseshoe, travelling clockwise.

Troop alert. Face the flag.

Everyone turns towards the flag. Wait until the Colour Party has arrived has checked that the halyards are ready.

Report halyards.

Colour Party
Halyards all clear!
Scoutmaster
Break the flag. Waits for flag to unfurl. Troop salute.

Everyone salutes the flag. The Colour Party takes one step back then salutes. There is a brief pause.

Steady.

Everyone ends their salute.

Face front.

The Colour Party returns to its place, walking clockwise around the horseshoe. The Promise and Law may be recited.

At ease.

The rest of the horseshoe business takes place.

Troop alert. Break off.

Flag Down

Scoutmaster
Scoutmaster makes the signal for the horseshoe to form. The closing horseshoe business takes place.

Colour Party, advance.

The Colour Party starts to come around the horseshoe, travelling clockwise.

Troop alert. Face the flag.

Colour Party A unties the halyards. If indoors, Colour Party B drops onto their right knee by the flag pole.

Report halyards.
Colour Party A
Halyards all clear!
Scoutmaster
Lower the flag.

Colour Party A slowly lowers the flag. Colour Party B gathers the flag being careful to ensure it does not touch the ground. Wait until the flag is all the way down.

Troop face in.

Everyone faces in. If indoors, Colour Party B stands. A Scouter's Five may be said and/or the Scout Promise and/or Law may be recited.

Scout silence.

Silence is held.

Troop, quarter turn to the left, file off.

The troop turns then files out clockwise around the front of the horseshoe shaking the hand of each Scouter as they pass by. The Colour Party folds the flag then files past the Scouters.

Note

At a large gathering, it would be unfeasible for everyone to shake the hands of those at the front of the horseshoe. In this case, the Scoutmaster will say, "Break off" instead of "Quarter turn to the left, file off." If the flag is being lowered in the evening at camp, the Scoutmaster will also tell the troop to "Break off", using "File off" only at the end of camp.

Flying Flags at Half-mast

If a troop is in official mourning, it will fly its flag at half-mast. After the flag is broken, the Scoutmaster says, "Bring flag to half-mast". The flag is slowly lowered, normally to one-third of the way from the top of the mast. At flag lowering, the flag is brought up to the top of the mast and then down.

Hats

This page used to contain instructions for removing hats during the lowering of the flag, consistent with practise in many troops. In 1998 when Scouts Canada removed hats from their uniform, this became largely moot for many troops.

National flag protocol calls for those in uniform to remain wearing their hats. This too is widely practised in Scouting. I have not found any Scouting manuals which take up this point, however, diagrams of flag lowering in Tenderfoot to Queen's Scout clearly show hats being worn during lowering. For these reasons, I have removed all references to removing hats from this document.