Half-Staff vs Half-Mast: What’s The Difference?

Often used incorrectly these 2 terms are very similar. It’s pretty easy to mix them up especially when they’re practically the same thing.

Fortunately, we half both the definitions listed out and we’ll dive deep into both meanings. 

This will hopefully put an end to the confusion.

So let’s get right into it.


Half-mast is a term that’s primarily used on ships or boats. This means the flag is flying midway between the summit and the bottom of the flagpole. The word “mast” refers to the ship’s mast.

So if you’re on a boat or ship you’ll be using the term “half-mast”. 

Flying a flag at half-mast is typically used during times of mourning or distress. So whether its something in the moment or a large event going on in the world.

It’s also important to follow the proper flag code. This is important to show respect to the flag. 

Here are some examples of rules that must be followed:

  • The flag shall not touch anything other than a flag pole
  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down
  • It should never be hung where it can easily be damaged

Although there are many rules, it can become pretty strict when it comes to the US flag. This is important to keep in mind because when you lower the flag to “half-mast” it will be much lower and can potentially be at risk for a code violation.


Half-staff is used in terms of a land flagpole and is primarily an American term. When a flag is half-staff it means its in the middle of the flagpole or between the summit and the bottom. 

When the day comes to lower to half-staff the proper way to do this is by raising the flag to the top and then going to half staff. The same goes for lowering it at the end of the day. You’ll raise it to the top and then proceed to lower the flag.

The US flag will be ordered to fly at half-staff by the US government. So whether it’s the president, governor, or mayor you’ll be notified. 

So if you own a US flag make sure to keep your eyes out for any news updates to be sure you’re showing respect.

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up; Half-mast is used in terms or boats or water, while half-staff is used on land. Half-staff is primarily a US flag term so places such as Canada and the UK wouldn’t really follow this.

When a flag is set to be at half-staff or half-mast, it’s typically for times of distress in the country and is a way of respect.  

So, if you or anyone you know owns a US flag be sure to follow code. You will be notified via the news, social media, etc.

It’s also important to know your surroundings. Be sure that the flag isn’t dragging on the ground or any other items. When being displayed the flag shall only be touching the flagpole.