Uniform

How To: The Official Guide To Saluting In The Military

Ever wondered why the Armed Forces salute and how to do it properly? Check out this guide

Why do people salute?

When serving personnel salute an officer, they are acknowledging Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State and saluting the rank the officer holds (the Queen's commission) rather than the individual themselves. When an officer returns a salute, it is done so on behalf of the Queen.

When did it start?

One theory is that in medieval Europe, knights used to raise their visors by hand to show they were friendly forces but it's more likely to have originated from the custom of lifting a hat to a superior.

Saluting terminology

‘Throwing one up’, ‘paying respects’ or ‘paying compliments’.

Did you know?

Non-commissioned ranks do not salute each other, only those who hold the Queen’s Commission (officers).

Tradition, however, (not regulations) dictates that anyone who has been awarded a Victoria Cross should also be saluted. This is out of respect for them as holders of the most prestigious award of the British honours system.

Standards, Guidons and Colours, the coffin in funeral processions, the Cenotaph and members of the Royal Family (or Governors/Ministers to whom they delegate authority) are also saluted by the Armed Forces.

The person of lower rank should initiate the salute and maintain it until the superior has responded in kind (unless the superior officer is riding a bicycle).

It is thought that the Navy use the 'shortest way up and down' method because space was restricted on board.

Graphic showing the Royal Air Force Salute
Graphic showing the Royal Air Force Salute

Armed Forces personnel only salute when wearing regimental headdress.

Head and eyes should both be directed towards the person at who the salute is directed.

If someone is saluted and are not wearing headdress, they must come to attention instead of returning salute.

If you are carrying equipment in your right hand when passing someone who would normally expect you to salute them, it is generally deemed acceptable to ‘brace up’ or come to attention and acknowledge them verbally.

It is thought the Royal Navy salute was adapted so as not to show dirty palms when saluting. Sailors used to climb the rigging and cover their hands in tar and it was deemed disrespectful to let officers see unwashed hands.

Graphic of the Royal Navy Salute
Graphic showing the Royal Navy Salute

Royal Navy

Raise the right hand quickly to your head by the shortest route (to the front of your body).

Hand is kept at an angle so that the palm is facing down so that neither the palm or back of hand is visible from the front.

Bring to a position in front of the eye.

Bicep should remain parallel to the ground.

Hand is lowered again quickly, by the shortest route.

Navy regulations state:

'All Officers and ratings are to salute when coming on board or leaving one of Her Majesty’s ships'.

'Female ratings are generally excused removing headgear when their male counterparts would be expected to do so (religious services or when ordinary courtesy makes it desirable)'.

Graphic of the British Army Salute
Graphic showing the British Army Salute

British Army

Raise the right hand to your head by the longest route (to the right of your trunk).

Fingers and thumb aligned, palm facing outwards.

Bring to a position where the index finger is an inch above the right eye with fingertips almost touching the beret or other head dress.

Bicep should remain parallel to the ground.

Snatch the arm back down the front of the body (the shortest way).

Royal Air Force

The RAF salute is similar to that of the Army except that it is to be held an inch above and behind the right eye.

RAF regulations dictate that personnel should salute:

'At any time when they recognise officers who are dressed in plain clothes'.

'When wearing plain-clothes personnel are to pay and return compliments by raising the hat'.

Regulations for both the Army and RAF dictate that:

'Personnel are to salute with the right hand unless physically unable to do so, in which case they are to salute with the left hand'.