A U.S. Army general (left) and a French Army general (right) saluting.
Pakistan army soldiers saluting British-style, palms facing outward.
Scouting leader and a new Scout exchange salutes

A salute is a gesture or other action used to display respect. Salutes are primarily associated with armed forces, but other organizations and civilians also use salutes.

Military salutes

Admiral Jay L. Johnson and Admiral Vern Clark of the United States Navy salute each other during a change of command ceremony. Clark is replacing Johnson as Chief of Naval Operations.

In military traditions of various times and places, there have been numerous methods of performing salutes, using hand gestures, cannon or rifle shots, hoisting of flags, removal of headgear, or other means of showing respect or deference. In the Commonwealth of Nations, only commissioned officers are saluted, and the salute is to the commission they carry from their respective commanders-in-chief representing the Monarch, not the officers themselves.

The British Army's salute is almost identical to the French salute, with the palm facing outward. The customary salute in the Polish Armed Forces is the two-fingers salute, a variation of the British military salute with only two fingers extended. In the Russian military, the right hand, palm down, is brought to the right temple, almost, but not quite, touching; the head has to be covered. In the Hellenic Army salute the palm is facing down and the fingers point to the coat of arms.

In the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, United States Coast Guard, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Colombian Army and Ecuadorian Army, as well as in all branches of the French Armed Forces, British Armed Forces (with the exception of the Blues and Royals), Canadian Forces, Danish Armed Forces, Hellenic Armed Forces, Italian Armed Forces, Norwegian Armed Forces, Polish Armed Forces, Irish Defence Forces, Australian Defence Force, South African National Defence Force[1], Swedish Defence Forces, Turkish Armed Forces and Russian and all former Soviet republic forces, hand salutes are only given when a cover (protection for the head, usually a hat) is worn.

When the presence of enemy snipers is suspected, military salutes are generally forbidden, since the enemy may use them to recognize officers as valuable targets.

Saluting with left hand

Some soldiers may salute with the left hand when the right hand is encumbered in some way (though it is rare), for example, a soldier with a rifle at Right Shoulder Arms; if movement of a weapon would be encumbered when making the armed salute; if the performance of duty requires the right hand for use or operation of equipment such as riding a motorcycle; if it is not possible to use the hand due to injury or amputation; when escorting a woman and it is not possible to walk on her right side. A right-handed boatswain Mate piping an Officer aboard may salute with his/her left hand.


Rustic Civility by William Collins showing a child "tugging his forelock" as a person of higher standing passes on horseback (only visible by the shadow)

According to some modern military manuals, the modern Western salute originated in France when knights greeted each other to show friendly intentions by raising their visors to show their faces, using a salute. Others also note that the raising of one's visor was a way to identify oneself saying "This is who I am, and I am not afraid." Medieval visors were, to this end, equipped with a protruding spike that allowed the visor to be raised using a saluting motion.[2][3]

The US Army Quartermaster School provides another explanation of the origin of the hand salute: that it was a long-established military courtesy for subordinates to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. As late as the American Revolution, a British Army soldier saluted by removing his hat. With the advent of increasingly cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, the act of removing one's hat was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping or touching the visor and issuing a courteous salutation.

As early as 1745, a British order book stated that: "The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass." Over time, it became conventionalized into something resembling our modern hand salute.[4] In the Austrian Army the practice of making a hand salute replaced that of removing the headdress in 1790, although officers wearing cocked hats continued to remove them when greeting superiors until 1868.[5]

The naval salute, with the palm downwards is said to have evolved because the palms of naval ratings, particularly deckhands, were often dirty through working with lines and was deemed insulting to present a dirty palm to an officer; thus the palm was turned downwards. During the Napoleonic Wars, British crews saluted officers by touching a clenched fist to the brow as though grasping a hat-brim between fingers and thumb.

Small arms salutes

A captain of the French Navy salutes by holding the back of his saber to his face during the ceremonies of the 14th of July in Toulon.

When carrying a sword (which is still done on ceremonial occasions), European military forces and their cultural descendants use a two-step gesture. The sword is first raised, in the right hand, to the level of and close to the front of the neck. The blade is inclined forward and up 30 degrees from the vertical; the true edge is to the left. Then the sword is slashed downward to a position with the point close to the ground in front of the right foot. The blade is inclined down and forward with the true edge to the left. This gesture originated in the Crusades. The hilt of a sword formed a cross with the blade, so if a crucifix was not available, a Crusader could kiss the hilt of his sword when praying, before entering battle, for oaths and vows, and so on. The lowering of the point to the ground is a traditional act of submission.

In fencing, the fencers salute each other before putting their masks on to begin a bout. There are several methods of doing this, but the most common is to bring the sword in front of the face so that the blade is pointing up in front of the nose. The fencers also salute the referee and the audience.

When armed with a rifle, two methods are available when saluting. The usual method is called "present arms"; the rifle is brought to the vertical, muzzle up, in front of center of the chest with the trigger away from the body. The hands hold the stock close to the positions they would have if the rifle were being fired, though the trigger is not touched. Less formal salutes include the "order arms salute" and the "shoulder arms salutes." These are most often given by a sentry to a low-ranking superior who does not rate the full "present arms" salute. In the "order arms salute," the rifle rests on its butt by the sentry's right foot, held near the muzzle by the sentry's right hand, and does not move. The sentry brings his flattened left hand across his body and touches the rifle near its muzzle. When the rifle is being carried on the shoulder, a similar gesture is used in which the flattened free hand is brought across the body to touch the rifle near the rear of the receiver.

A different type of salute with a rifle is a ritual firing performed during military funerals, known as a three-volley salute. In this ceremonial act, an odd number of rifleman fire three blank cartridges in unison into the air over the casket. This originates from an old European tradition wherein a battle was halted to remove the dead and wounded, then three shots were fired to signal readiness to reengage.

Heavy arms: gun salutes

A cannon on a naval vessel's deck fired during the arrival of a dignitary.
The Saluting Battery in Valletta firing a gun salute.

Naval cannon fire

The custom of firing cannon salutes originated in the Royal Navy. When a cannon was fired, it partially disarmed the ship, so needlessly firing a cannon showed respect and trust. As a matter of courtesy a warship would fire her guns harmlessly out to sea, to show that she had no hostile intent. At first, ships were required to fire seven guns, and forts, with their more numerous guns and a larger supply of gunpowder, to fire 21 times. Later, as the quality of gunpowder improved, the British increased the number of shots required from ships to match the forts.

The system of odd numbered rounds originated from Samuel Pepys, Secretary to the Navy in the Restoration, as a way of economising on the use of powder, the rule until that time having been that all guns had to be fired. Odd numbers were chosen, as even numbers indicated a death.[6]

As naval customs evolved, the 21-gun salute came to be reserved for heads of state, with fewer rounds used to salute lower-ranking officials. Today, In the US Armed Forces, heads of government and cabinet ministers (e.g., the Vice President, U.S. cabinet members, and service secretaries[7]), and military officers with five-star rank receive 19 rounds; four-stars receive 17 rounds; three-stars receive 15; two-stars receive 13; and a one-star general or admiral receives 11. These same standards are currently adhered to by ground-based saluting batteries.

Multiples of 21-gun salutes may be fired for particularly important celebrations. In monarchies this is often done at births of members of the royal family of the country and other official celebrations associated with the royal family.

United States Army Presidential Salute Battery

A specialty platoon of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the Presidential Salute Battery is based at Fort Myer, Virginia. The Guns Platoon (as it is known for short) has the task of rendering military honors in the National Capital Region, including armed forces full-honors funerals; state funerals; presidential inaugurations; full-honors wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery; state arrivals at the White House and Pentagon, and retirement ceremonies for general-grade officers in the Military District of Washington, which are normally conducted at Fort Myer.

The Presidential Salute Battery also participates in A Capitol Fourth, the Washington Independence Day celebration; the guns accompany the National Symphony Orchestra in performing the "1812 Overture".

The platoon maintains its battery of ten ceremonially-modified World War II-vintage M-5 anti-tank guns at the Old Guard regimental motor pool.

Aerial salutes

A ceremonial or celebratory form of aerial salute is the flypast (known as a "flyover" in the United States), which often follows major parades such as the annual Trooping the Colour in the United Kingdom or the French défilé du 14 juillet. It is seen in other countries as well, notably Singapore and Canada. In Singapore, the Republic of Singapore Air Force usually conducts aerial salutes during the annual National Day Parade and major state events, such as during the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew.

Gun salute by aircraft, primarily displayed during funerals, began with simple flypasts during World War I and have evolved into the missing man formation, where either a formation of aircraft is conspicuously missing an element, or where a single plane abruptly leaves a formation

A casual salute by an aircraft, somewhat akin to waving to a friend, is the custom of "waggling" the wings by partially rolling the aircraft first to one side, and then the other.

Military salutes in different countries

Australia and New Zealand

In both countries, the right-hand salute is generally identical to, and drawn from the traditions of, the British armed forces. The salute of the Australian or New Zealand Army is best described as the right arm taking the path of the longest way up and then the shortest way down. Similar in many ways, the salute of the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force takes the longest way up and the shortest way down. The Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy, however, take the shortest way up, palm down, and the shortest way down. The action of the arm rotating up is slower than the action of the conclusion of the salute which is the arm being quickly "snapped" down to the saluter's side. Junior members are required to salute first and the senior member is obliged to return the compliment. Protocol dictates that the Monarch, members of the Royal Family, the Governor-General and State Governors are to be saluted at all times by all ranks. Except where a Drill Manual (or parade) protocol dictates otherwise, the duration of the salute is timed at three beats of the quick-time march (approximately 1.5 seconds), timed from the moment the senior member first returns it. In situations where cover (or "headdress", as it is called in the Australian Army) is not being worn, the salute is given verbally; the junior party (or at least the senior member thereof) will first come to attention, then offer the salute "Good morning/afternoon Your Majesty/Your Royal Highness/Prime Minister/Your Grace/Sir/Ma'am", etc., as the case may be. It is this, rather than the act of standing to attention, which indicates that a salute is being offered. If either party consists of two or more members, all will come to attention, but only the most senior member of the party will offer (or return) the physical or verbal salute. The party which is wearing headdress must always offer, or respond with, a full salute. At the Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA) no salutes of any kind are given, under any circumstances; it is always sensible to assume that there are snipers in the area. In this case, parties personally known to each other are addressed familiarly by their first or given names, regardless of rank; senior officers are addressed as one might address a stranger, courteously, but without any naming or mark of respect.[8]

British military

Personnel from the Royal Air Force, the British Army and the Royal Navy saluting.
British Army

Since 1917, the British Army's salute has been given with the right hand palm facing forwards with the fingers almost touching the cap or beret. Before 1917, for Other Ranks (i.e. not officers) the salute was given with whichever hand was furthest from the person being saluted, whether that was the right or the left. Officers always saluted with the right hand (as the left, in theory, would always be required to hold the scabbard of their sword)[9] The salute is given to acknowledge the Queen's commission. A salute may not be given unless a soldier is wearing his regimental headdress, for example a beret, caubeen, Tam o' Shanter, Glengarry, field service cap or peaked cap. This does not apply to members of The Blues and Royals (RHG/1stD) The Household Cavalry who, after The Battle of Warburg were allowed to salute without headdress. If a soldier or officer is not wearing headdress then he or she must come to attention instead of giving/returning the salute. The subordinate salutes first and maintains the salute until the superior has responded in kind.

There is a widespread though erroneous belief that it is statutory for "all ranks to salute a bearer of the Victoria Cross". There is no official requirement that appears in the official Warrant of the VC, nor in Queen's Regulations and Orders, but tradition dictates that this occurs and as such the Chiefs of Staff will salute a Private awarded either a VC or George Cross.

Royal Air Force

The custom of saluting commissioned officers relates wholly to the commission given by Her Majesty the Queen to that officer, not the person.[10] Therefore, when a subordinate airman salutes an officer, he is indirectly acknowledging Her Majesty as Head of State. A salute returned by the officer is on behalf of the Queen.

The RAF salute is similar to the British Army, the hand is brought upwards in a circular motion out from the body, it is stopped 1 inch (20 mm) to the rear of the right of the right eye, the elbow and wrist are kept inline with the shoulder. The hand is then brought straight down back to the position of attention, this movement is completed to the timing "UP TWO-THREE/DOWN"[11]

Royal Navy

The Naval salute differs in that the palm of the hand faces down towards the shoulder. This dates back to the days of sailing ships, when tar and pitch were used to seal a ship's timbers from seawater. To protect their hands, officers wore white gloves and it was considered most undignified to present a dirty palm in the salute, so the hand was turned through 90 degrees. A common story is that Queen Victoria, having been saluted by an individual with a dirty palm, decreed that in future sailors of the fleet would salute palm down, with the palm facing the ground.

Royal Marines

The Royal Marines follow the British Army and salute with the right hand palm facing forward.[12][13]

In the colonial context

In the British Empire (originally in the maritime and hinterland sphere of influence of the East India Company, HEIC, later transformed into crown territories), mainly in British India, the numbers of guns fired as a gun salute to the ruler of a so-called princely state became a politically highly significant indicator of his status, not governed by objective rules, but awarded (and in various cases increased) by the British paramount power, roughly reflecting his state's socio-economic, political and/or military weight, but also as a prestigious reward for loyalty to the Raj, in classes (always odd numbers) from three to twenty-one (seven lacking), for the "vassal" indigenous rulers (normally hereditary with a throne, sometimes raised as a personal distinction for an individual ruling prince). Two sovereign monarchies officially outside the Empire were granted a higher honor: thirty-one guns for the royal houses of Afghanistan (under British and Russian influence), and Siam (which was then ruled by the Rattanakosin Kingdom).

In addition, the right to style himself Highness (Majesty, which since its Roman origin expresses the sovereign authority of the state, was denied to all "vassals"), a title of great importance in international relations, was formally restricted to rulers of relatively high salute ranks (originally only those with eleven guns or more, later also those with nine guns).

Canadian military

Much as the British salute, described above, the Canadian military salutes to demonstrate a mark of respect and courtesy for the commissioned ranks. When in uniform and not wearing headdress one does not salute. Instead, compliments shall be paid by standing at attention. If on the march, arms shall be swung and the head turned to the left or right as required.[14]

On Remembrance Day, 2009, The Prince of Wales attended the national ceremony in Ottawa with Governor General Michaëlle Jean—both wearing Canadian military dress. CBC live television coverage of the event noted that, when Prince Charles saluted, he performed the Canadian form of the salute with a cupped hand (the British "naval salute"—appropriate, as he did his military service as an officer in the Royal Navy), adopted by all elements of the Canadian Forces after unification in 1968, rather than the British (Army) form with the palm facing forward.

Danish military

Danish Army Salute

In the Danish military, there are two types of military salutes. The first type is employed by the Royal Danish Navy, Royal Danish Air Force, and Guard Hussar Regiment Mounted Squadron, and is the same as the one used by the U.S..[15] The second is employed by the Royal Danish Army, and goes as follows: Raise the right arm forward, as to have upper arm 90 degrees from the body. Move the right hand to the temple, and have it parallel to the ground.[16]

French military

A French military salute by the French general Pierre de Villiers.

The French military salutes to demonstrate a mark of respect, fraternity and courtesy for all soldiers ; subordinates salute superiors and every salute is given back. Salutes are not performed if a member is not wearing a headdress or if he is holding a weapon. The French salute, as the original template, is performed with a flat hand, palm facing forwards; the upper arm is horizontal and the tips of the fingers come near the corner of the eyes. It perfectly mirrors the gesture made when knights greeted each other to show friendly intentions by raising their visors to show their faces. A crisp tension may be given when the salute is broken.

German military

In the German Bundeswehr, the salute is performed with a flat hand, with the thumb resting on the index finger. The hand is slightly tilted to the front so that the thumb can not be seen. The upper arm is horizontal and the fingers point to the temple but do not touch it or the headgear. Every soldier saluting another uniformed soldier is entitled to be saluted in return. Soldiers below the rank of Feldwebel are not permitted to speak while saluting. Since the creation of the Bundeswehr, soldiers are required to salute with and without headgear. Originally, in the Reichswehr it was not permitted to perform the salute when the soldier is not wearing uniform headgear. In the Wehrmacht, the traditional military salute was required when wearing headgear, but the Nazi salute was performed when not wearing headgear. East German National People's Army followed the Reichswehr protocol.

Indian military

In India, the three forces have different salutes with the Indian Army and the Indian Navy following the British tradition. In the Indian army, the salute is performed by keeping the open palm forward, with fingers and thumb together and middle finger almost touching the hatband or right eyebrow. This is often accompanied by the regimental salutation, e.g.:"Sat Sri Akal" in the Sikh Regiment. The Navy salute has the palm facing towards the ground at a 90-degree angle. The Indian Air Force salute involves the right arm being sharply raised from the front by the shortest possible way, with the plane of the palm at 45-degree angle to the forehead.[17]


In Indonesia, the salute is similar to the British Royal Navy. The salute is a gesture that every person must know and is commonly used for the flag raising ceremony. It is a very common gesture amongst every part of the country, starting from school to military, police, firefighters, and even scouts (using five fingers, contrary to other countries). In the military, this gesture is known as Present Arms or in Indonesian: Hormat Senjata, Gerak (with weapons) or Hormat, Gerak (without weapons).

Israel Defense Forces

Israeli style salute at IDF ceremony for the newly appointed Commander in Chief of Israeli Navy, Brig. General Ram Rotenberg

In the Israel Defense Forces, saluting is normally reserved for special ceremonies. Unlike in the US Army, saluting is not a constant part of day to day barracks life.[18]

Pakistan Armed Forces

In Pakistan, the salute is generally identical to that of British armed forces. Salute is given with the right hand palm facing forward and fingers slightly touching the right side of the forehead, but not on the forehead. The salute must be performed by the lower rank officials to the higher rank officials under all conditions except when the higher rank official is not in uniform or if the lower rank official is the driver and the vehicle is in motion.[19] The salute is sometimes also performed by left hand if the right hand of the person is completely occupied.

People's Republic of China

Military personnel of the People's Liberation Army salute according to Chinese standards[vague] and similar to the Royal Navy salute.[citation needed]

Polish military

Polish style salute, using two fingers

In Polish military forces, military men use two fingers to salute, and when they wear headdress (including helmet) because soldiers are supposed to salute to the Coat of Arms on the military headdress, out of respect to the national symbols (This is called the Two-finger salute). There are some exceptions in Polish regulations when salute is not demonstrated, for instance after proclaiming alert in military unit area. As above, salute is marking respect for higher rank or command. Untrained recruits are obliged to salute as without headdress, i.e. to stand at attention (or—during walking—to march at attention).

Swedish military

Salutes are similar to those of the Royal Navy. The official instruction for stationary salute states: "The right hand is quickly raised straight up to the headgear. The fingers straight but not stiff next to each other, the little finger edge facing forward. One or two finger tips lightly resting against the right part of the head gear (visor), so that the hand does not obstruct the eye. The wrist straight, the elbow angled forward and slightly lower than the shoulder." Salutes to persons are normally not made when further away than 30 m. Hand salutes are performed only when carrying head gear, if bare headed (normally only indoors) a slight bow is made instead. The same applies if the right hand is carrying any item that cannot easily be transferred to the left hand. During inspections and when on guard duty, the salute is made by coming to attention. Drivers of moving vehicles never salute. In formations, only the commander salutes.[20]

Swiss Armed Forces

Swiss soldiers are required to salute any higher-ranking military personnel whenever they encounter them. When the soldier announces to a higher-ranking person he has to state the superior's rank, his rank and his name. When a military formation encounters a superior, it has to state the name of the formation. The salute is given like that of the British navy with the palm pointing towards the shoulder, the tips of the fingers pointing towards the temple.

Turkish Armed Forces

Turkish soldiers salute while the band plays the national anthem.

Within the Turkish military hand salutes are only given when a cover (protection for the head, usually a hat) is worn.

If head is not covered or when the personnel is carrying a rifle on the shoulder the head salute is performed by nodding the head forward slightly while maintaining erect posture.

The salute (hand or head) must be performed first by the lower ranking personnel to the higher ranking personnel, and higher official is expected to return the salute, under all conditions except:

  • Personnel who are driving vehicles.
  • Personnel who are on sentry, patrol, observation duty or defending a specific point.
  • Personnel on combat orders.
  • Personnel who are transporting live ammuniton.
  • Military prisoners and personnel escorting them.

Despite of the rank, casket of a martyr personnel while in transport or on stand has to be saluted by all ranks of personnel.[21]

U.S. Armed Forces

Within United States' military, the salute is a courteous exchange of greetings, with the junior member always saluting first. When returning or rendering an individual salute, the head and eyes are turned toward the Colors or person saluted. Military personnel in uniform are required to salute when they meet and recognize persons entitled to a salute, except when it is inappropriate or impractical (in public conveyances such as planes and buses, in public places such as inside theaters, or when driving a vehicle).[22]

It is believed that the U.S. military's salute was influenced by British military, although differs slightly, in that the palm of the hand faces down towards the shoulder. This difference may date back to the days of sailing ships, when tar and pitch were used to seal the timber from seawater. During such times, it was considered undignified to present a dirty palm in the salute, so the hand was turned through 90 degrees.[22]

Specifically, a proper salute goes as follows: Raise the right hand sharply, fingers and thumb extended and joined, palm facing down, and place the tip of the right forefinger on the rim of the visor, slightly to the right of the eye. The outer edge of the hand is barely canted downward so that neither the back of the hand nor the palm is clearly visible from the front. The hand and wrist are straight, the elbow inclined slightly forward, and the upper arm is horizontal.[23]

The United States Army and United States Air Force give salutes both covered and uncovered, but saluting indoors is forbidden except when formally reporting to a superior officer or during an indoor ceremony. It should be noted that when outdoors, a cover is to be worn at all times when wearing Battle Dress Uniforms/Army Combat Uniforms, but is not required when wearing physical training (PT) gear.

Zogist salute

Albanian soldiers performing the Zogist salute

The Zogist salute is a military salute that was instituted by Zog I of Albania. It is a gesture whereby the right hand is placed over the heart, with the palm facing downwards. It was first widely used by Zog's personal police force and was later adopted by the Royal Albanian Army.

In Mexico, a salute similar to the Zogist one is rendered by Mexican civilians during the playing of the Mexican national anthem.[24][25]

Other Languages
العربية: تحية عسكرية
azərbaycanca: Hərbi salam
čeština: Salutování
dansk: Honnør
español: Saludo militar
Esperanto: Armea saluto
français: Salut militaire
한국어: 경례
हिन्दी: सलामी
Bahasa Indonesia: Pemberian hormat
italiano: Saluto militare
עברית: הצדעה
Kiswahili: Saluti
Nederlands: Saluut
日本語: 敬礼
norsk: Honnør
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਸਲੂਟ
polski: Salutowanie
português: Continência
română: Salut
slovenčina: Salutovanie
svenska: Honnör
українська: Військове вітання
اردو: سلامی
中文: 敬礼