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Dipping The Colors

Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'

DIPPING THE COLORS

"Dipping the colors" is a naval tradition and was codified in 1594 when the European powers agreed that only the Pope and King of Spain could continue to fly their colors when their ships encountered one another on the open seas. Ships of all other nations yielded precedence to these two and lowered (dipped) their colors in salute. With the rise of Great Britain as the preeminent seagoing power, British men-of-war refused to dip their colors to any ship -- the American navy followed suit Today, no nation's navy initiates this salute.

However, if a merchantman or ship of a U.S. State Department designated country initiates a formal greeting by dipping its colors, U.S. Navy ships are permitted to recognize the salute by dipping their colors in response. This is the only situation where U.S. colors are ever dipped. Unit colors, State flags, and organizational or institutional flags can be dipped as a mark of honor. That we do not dip our colors is not meant as disrespect to anyone or any country, but is intended to preserve the flag as a symbol of national dignity



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